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Marriage story 

Toni DiBuono, Danny Vaccaro, and Stephen Caffrey in Geva's production of "Slow Food."

PHOTO BY RON HEERKENS, JR. PHOTOGRAPHY

Toni DiBuono, Danny Vaccaro, and Stephen Caffrey in Geva's production of "Slow Food."

During the doldrums of a Rochester winter, it's nice to have a comedic escape at the theater. That's likely why Geva Theatre Center strategically places a feel-good show in the January slot of the season lineup each year. For the current season, it's "Slow Food" by Wendy MacLeod, which runs through February 9 on the Wilson Stage. The plot follows a middle-aged couple, Peter and Irene, on the first night of their anniversary trip to Palm Springs, California. They've missed room service at the hotel by just a few minutes, but manage to find a little Greek restaurant that is still serving dinner at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night. The only problem is, their server, Stephen, will do just about anything but serve them.

MacLeod's work tends to center on 'first world problems' — usually white, middle-aged, upper class characters — Geva patrons may remember "Women in Jeopardy!" from several seasons ago, a sticky-sweet comedy about a group of middle-aged women who become unlikely crime-solvers. MacLeod's plays always have witty dialogue and comedic elements aplenty, but fortunately, in "Slow Food" there's a deeper dig on the psyche behind the simple concept of eating a meal at a restaurant with a partner. Themes of hunger (both real and imagined), anger, mental health, fidelity, dependence, and manipulation come to the fore as a triangular power struggle between the characters takes place.

The show's three characters are all familiar faces at Geva, and "Slow Food" was completely cast by invitation. Stephen Caffrey (Peter) returns to Geva for the first time since 2015, when he played Mark Rothko in "Red." Toni DiBuono (Irene) has been in several Geva productions, most recently last season as Diedre Blake in "The Humans" (opposite director Skip Greer). And Danny Vaccaro (Stephen) was seen earlier this season in "La Cage aux Folles," in which he played opposite Geva's Artistic Director Mark Cuddy.

Greer, who excels with small cast-size shows and heavy dialogue, guides the actors in a song-and-dance repartee that keeps the audience engaged and the laughs coming. Caffrey expertly toes the line between sensitive, 'hangry' husband and assertive, dominant businessman; while DiBuono embodies the caring, henpeck-ish wife who can be both maternal and childish. As the passive-aggressive, attention-starved server, Vaccaro is frustrating and hilarious, the most stereotypical version of a hospitality industry lifer.

The set design by Robert Koharchik captures the shtick of mid-century modern Palm Springs tourist traps, while also providing realistic details like greasy tiles beyond the swinging doors to the kitchen. Modern-day, casual costumes by Sarafina Bush are spotlighted throughout the dialogue and integral to each character's identity, and lighting design by Derek Madonna provides a sense of waning daylight and the artificial warmth of restaurant fixtures.

At its core, "Slow Food" is really about human relationships, and the ways humans (mis)communicate with one another. The juxtaposition of the service industry with an average marriage is a brilliant one; as those are two of the most commonly frustrating arenas for communication.

But through the conversations between Peter and Irene as they are forced to slow down and begin discussing things like flirting, the annoying habits of the other, and the bonds that tie them after more than 20 years, "Slow Food" becomes a quiet ode to committed marriage. It's beautiful, deceptively subtle — heard in lines like "I like being married to Irene, I want to be married to Irene," from Peter, and Irene's truly sincere support of Peter's hard work for their family. It's the kind of exchanges that may make audience members self-reflect a bit, but perhaps appreciate their partners more, and reminisce on similar times sitting across a table from their person.

In all, "Slow Food" is a lighthearted night out with a heartwarming storyline. For 90 minutes with no intermission, audiences can laugh along with (and relate to) Peter, Irene and Stephen's antics onstage — the ideal cure for cabin fever.

Leah Stacy is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to becca@rochester-citynews.com.

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