AMERICAN HERO, by Bess Wohl, directed by Allie Moss.
The end of the American Dream. l-r; Devon deGroot as Sheri, Laura Espino as Jamie and Paul Stout as Ted. “American Hero” written by Bess Wohl, who also wrote the successful “Small Mouth Sounds” is a fast-paced, very funny play based on uncomfortable and sometimes deadly truths about what it takes to run a Subway-like franchise sandwich shop.
The play opens on a Toasted Subs in a local mall. Kudos to the set designed by Heather Kenyon, with properties by Stephanie Dittbern. Everything’s covered in plastic wrap: the counter, display case, tables and chairs, etc., which the employees remove. The cast couldn’t be more perfect. The wonderful David Boyll is Bob, the franchisee (He also plays two other parts: a Customer, a sandwich, and Gregory). Bob speaks with a heavy Eastern European accent (dialect coach Christine Adaire). His employees are: Sheri, a winsome, lithe blonde teen (beautifully played by Devon deGroot) who also works at a Taco shop; single mom Jamie, a seductive, full-bodied woman (excellent Laura Espino) and Ted, a blonde, bearded stocky perfectly cast Paul Stout. Ted was “terminated” due to redundancy, a former employee from corporate banking, who bears a slight resemblance to a hirsute Bradley Cooper. Bob instructs them on the franchise’s routine. By their reaction, it’s clear that they have worked for other fast food enterprises, so are knowledgeable as to how it works. Each has his or her task and title. Bob times them building a sandwich which regulations require to be completed in seconds. To his dismay, they fall behind a second or two. They make it known that they don’t just make sandwiches, they are “sandwich artists”.
Things get sticky when Bob disappears; they are lost. There’s no one to approve payments, or replenish supplies. They run out of everything. Calls to corporate headquarters go unanswered. Messages are not returned. When they try Bob’s emergency number, the shop’s phone rings. Ironically, there’s another franchise a few miles away that seems to be doing fine. Frustrated, the staff are at a loss. What can they do? Rumors abound concerning Bob’s disappearance; Sheri suggests that he could be dead, lying in a “pool of blood”. When the trio uses their own ingenuity and successfully attracts customers, and make payroll, they are visited by a corporate rep (Boyll again). Rather than being chastised, Sheri gets invited to headquarters where she is lauded thus changing her attitude towards the franchise. Jami and Ted engage in a very brief hook-up at one point (out-of-sight, behind the counter) leaving both feeling icky, wondering why and how it happened. Jami then faces a situation that could drastically alter her life until Ted convinces her of a way out, helping her monetarily with his part of the payroll.
Playwright Bess Wohl is to be commended for managing to instill an undercurrent of desperation and futility behind the script’s lighthearted tone. We laughed throughout, yet still understood the realities of the situation, situations that low-income people face everyday.
I asked Devon later what they did with the stacks of sandwiches they make. She explained that they are saved for the next performance; the cast often eats some (though a bit stale), and/or gives them away to organizations who feed the homeless. Boyll told me that the play was partly based on a true story. Seems that one franchisee became so undone by the entire experience- no support, unanswered phone calls, inability to meet unreasonable quotas, retain staff, late or missing deliveries over which he had no control- that he committed suicide one night in the supply room.
American Hero runs till Saturday April 6. It is 90 minutes long with no intermission. At Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter Street at Powell, in the Shelton Theatre complex. Powell Cable car at Market and Powell; Muni, 2 Clement, and 1 Jackson. email: email@example.com. Web: custommade.org, or call: 415 798-2682, for tickets and information. And! Look for “Flash Sales” Tix. $20.00.