Friday, April 30, 2010



by Chuck Graham

Let the Show Begin

Hold the food puns for a minute and let’s be serious. Roberto Guajardo gives another wonderful over-the-top performance at Invisible Theatre in “An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf.” What a season he is having. From the multiple characters in “Leaving Iowa” last autumn to the crazily colorful Pancho Villa last winter, to the suicidal gourmet in the recently-opened black comedy “Empty Plate.”

There hasn’t been a time that I can remember in Tucson theater when a local actor gave three exceptional performances in one season.

As for “Empty Plate,” this quirky play by Michael Hollinger almost defies description. There’s food, of course, and descriptions of gourmet dishes that would make a menu writer’s jaw drop in awe.

Succulent adjectives of every texture and flavor lace the script as the chef and maitre d’ extol the scintillating virtues of each new offering from the world class kitchen of the Café du Grand Boeuf.

But there is also suicide. Guajardo plays Victor the severely depressed billionaire who plans to end it all slowly and with contemplation by starving to death while dictating the story of his life to the waiter Antoine (Brad Kula), dutifully sitting at the next table with note pad and pencil.

In this metaphorical world, Victor owns a tiny restaurant with three tables and one customer – himself. No one else may dine here at the Cafe du Grand Boeuf.

Staffing the ultra-exclusive establishment are the chef Gaston (David Alexander Johnston), the maitre‘d Claude (Sean Dupont) and the waiter Mimi (Carrie Hill).

According to Victor’s instructions the staff must be ready at all times to serve any dish Victor requests.

Could there ever be such an elaborate dining arrangement for any billionaire any where? Probably not, but it does sort of sound like something Howard Hughes would do.

But with the four staffers having such cushy jobs, it is easy to imagine their panic one evening when a moribund Victor announces he is going to commit suicide. These desperate employees run through all the stages of grief ranging from anger to acceptance.

At Claude’s insistence the staff will prepare a glorious seven course meal in the kitchen, but they won’t serve it to Victor. Instead, these vigilant loyalists will bring out an empty plate, and then describe the epicurean creation that would be on the plate if Victor wasn’t so determined to commit suicide.

Victor, of course, must agree to savor every word. Reluctantly, he agrees…which sets the play in motion. A play about death must, of course, also be a play about life. And for life to continue there must be food.

So far, so good. Hollinger the playwright loves word play as well as the overblown literary striving so often associated with the menus that accompany such elegant dining. The word play is fun for the actors as well as the audience.

There are also a number of quotable lines worthy of becoming bumper stickers. “Appetite is hunger combined with hope” says one.

Victor made his money in journalism, which does date the play a bit (it was written in the 1990s and set in Paris in 1961). So think of“Empty Plate” as a historical drama linking journalism, Hemingway, the lack of literary imagination in writing obituaries, the pageantry of bull fights and many wonderful descriptions of food.

Underneath the deathly humor is an insistence on the powerful drive to survive and thrive. Even though Victor sees no reason to live any longer, those around him see lots of reasons to keep on living.

Performances of “An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf” continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, to May 16 at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Tickets are $22-$25 general admission; rush tickets one hour before curtain (when available). For reservations and details, 882-9721, or visit

'Empty Plate' full of rich theater fare

'Empty Plate' full of rich theater fare


'Empty Plate' full of rich theater fare

Cathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Friday, April 30, 2010

Warning: Don't come to see Invisible Theatre's production of "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf" on an empty stomach.

You'll torture yourself as plate by plate of French dishes is described in a saliva-inducing feast of adjectives and adverbs.

Descriptions are all you will get; the real food is left in the kitchen in this one-act play by Michael Hollinger and all we see are empty plates served to Monsieur Victor (Roberto Guajardo), the millionaire proprietor of the finest restaurant in the world whose only diner is himself.

Victor's devoted staff - the stammering new-kid-in-the-dining room Antoine (Brad Kula), the gastronomically sadistic waiter Claude (Sean Dupont), his unhappy wife/waitress Mimi (Carrie Hill) and chef Gaston (David Alexander Johnston) - are determined to dissuade him from his wish to die of starvation in his restaurant.

Throughout the 90-minute production, admirably directed by Samantha K. Wyer, the staff delivers empty dish after empty dish of savory, sweet, scrumptious culinary masterpieces that would break down a monk's resolve.



"An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf" presented by Invisible Theatre. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays, through May 16 at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. 882-9721.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@com or 573-4642.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

'Empty Plate' brings much to the table

'Empty Plate' brings much to the table

'Empty Plate' brings much to the table

Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Friday, April 23, 2010

Michael Hollinger isn't a gourmand, a millionaire or a big Hemingway fan. But Victor, the main character in Hollinger's play, "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf," is each of those.

"An Empty Plate," which Invisible Theatre will open next week, is a comedy laced with drama about a very rich man (Victor), who quotes Hemingway often and has an exquisite restaurant in Paris that is open 24/7 and serves only him.

And he's decided to kill himself by starving to death. That stresses Victor's staff of a chef and waiters to no end - their purpose to life is to serve him. What will they do if they no longer can do that?

It is Hollinger's first play - one he wrote as an antidote to a too-structured film class.

READ MORE ... 'Empty Plate' brings much to the table

TIM FULLER / INVISIBLE THEATRECynthia Jeffery and Roberto Guajardo in Invisible Theatre's production of "An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf," about a rich man with a restaurant that serves only him. Yet he's decided to starve himself.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pastime Players reflect many talents

Pastime Players reflect many talents

M. Scot Skinner | Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2010

A fascinating documentary about the Pastime Players, a Tucson troupe that showcases the abilities of people with developmental disabilities, is one of 18 feature films selected for the 2010 Arizona International Film Festival.

"Such Good Friends" goes behind the scenes with the inspiring ensemble, which took its name from the street within the Amphitheater school district, where the Pastime Players originated 25 years ago.

Under the constant and energetic guidance of Susan Claassen, Gail Fitzhugh and other professionals from Tucson's Invisible Theatre, the players have rehearsed and performed at Catalina High Magnet School since 1990.

You can see "Such Good Friends," a film by Claassen and Cyndee Wing, at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Crossroads theater on East Grant Road.

Although the documentary was first screened at the Loft Cinema a year ago, Claassen and Wing continued sharpening and shaping the film, and they consider Saturday's screening to be the premiere. Admission is $6.

The remarkably effective film, which includes footage of the performers and interviews with several sets of parents and caregivers, also was selected for next month's inaugural Black Hills Film Festival, to be held in the shadow of Mount Rushmore.

Read more: Pastime Players reflect many talents

Photo: THE INVISIBLE THEATRE, Verl Foley of the Pastime Players will be portraying the White Rabbit in the "Alice in Wonderland" portion of Monday's "The Me Inside of Me.