Most people want to know only two things about a restaurant: how’s the food, and how’s the service? Almost no one thinks one way or the other about the lives of the back-of-house staff, where the bussers and runners hang out, making sure the servers get those dishes on time and cleaning up after a table of diners has left.
Playwright Elizabeth Irwin (who clocked many years as a server herself) gives the back-house group its due in “My Mañana Comes,” about four bussers/ runners at an upscale Manhattan restaurant. This group includes two undocumented immigrants, Jorge and Pepe; African American Peter, a Harlem resident, and third-generation Mexican American Whalid, from Brooklyn. Each has a goal and is looking for his own “mañana.”
“My Mañana Comes” gets its West Coast premiere through Oct. 25 at San Diego Repertory Theatre. Moxie Theatre’s Delicia Turner Sonnenberg directs.
Whalid (the most recent hire) has already decided being a busser is not his life’s goal and is studying to become an EMT. He practices on Pepe during off moments. Pepe, the youngest, has worked at the restaurant a few months, and is a sucker for the instant gratification of beer, sneakers and clubs. He wants to bring his brother to New York from Juarez.
Jorge (Jorge E. Rodriguez) lives penuriously, sharing living quarters with several others and eating leftovers in pursuit of his dream: to save enough money to return home and buy a house for his wife and children in Puebla.
Peter (Edred Utomi) is a born New Yorker, supporting his girlfriend and daughter. Easily the best at his job (and the only one who impressively demonstrates a successful cold leap over the prep table), he thinks he runs the place. Jorge and Peter are four-year veterans of the restaurant.
There’s something balletic about watching these guys in action, passing, turning, not bumping into each other as plates appear through one door and are carried through another while a third busser brings dirty plates back from the dining area. Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg has a great eye for how that should look, and it’s impressive.
It’s the week after Memorial Day, and business is slowing for the summer. These guys live for (but not on) their shift pay and hope for good business, because that means they also get part of the servers’ tips.
There’s a lot of good-natured ribbing going on, and a fair amount of camaraderie as well. But when management threatens the existence of the back-of-house staff, the atmosphere changes dramatically as the play leaps to its surprising conclusion.
Sonnenberg’s cast is superb: the quiet determination of Rodriguez’ Jorge contrasts with the brash assertiveness of Utomi’s Peter; the eager youth of Martinez’ Pepe with Smith’s Whalid, ambitiously planning his escape to a better job.
Brian Redfern’s set design looks right (though I can’t attest to its authenticity). The rest of the fine tech team (Anastasia Pautova, costumes; Sherrice Mojgani, lighting and Kevin Anthenill, sound design) all make fine contributions.
Restaurant work is tough and largely poorly paid. Though the script occasionally lapses into preachiness, give Irwin credit for bringing these characters and their reach for the American dream to our attention.
“My Mañana Comes” plays through October 25, 2015 at San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.
Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2, 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm
Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or www.sdrep.org
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.