Mixed Blood Theatre’s The Poetry of Pizza is easy on the drama and heavy on light comedy. That said, it’s not the most original of stories. Playwright Deborah Brevoort’s persistent quirkiness results in an overlong play about what is essentially A Midsummer Night’s Dream, minus the poetry and fluidity of Shakespeare. Like actual pizza, Poetry is not substantial, but it is palatable.
Poetry, directed by John Miller–Stephany, focuses on Sarah Middleton (Stacia Rice), a professor of poetry living in Copenhagen while researching the topic for her next book. One night, as Sarah is walking home, she bumps into a Kurdish–owned pizzeria to get out of the rain. Her red umbrella looks like a beautiful rose to the Kurdish pizza boy, Soran, and he falls head over heels in love with her. Unfortunately for Sarah, two Danish men, Ule and Heino, lust for her too.
Patrick O’Brien’s Ule is small and good-natured, but his Sarah–stalking tendencies are more creepy than cute. Barbara Kingsley provides a nice contrast as his agoraphobic wife, Inga. Sean Michael Dooley’s Heino is slimy but inconsequential, and Michelle Hutchison’s Pam, Sarah’s best friend, seems out of place and overacted. The same can be said for the role of Olga (Jayne Taini), who commiserates with Inga over the phone until she unwittingly falls in love with her husband. Omar Koury, as the Kurdish owner of the pizzeria, Rebar, is great. He brings an inner life to his character’s outsized personality.
The play’s emotional center revolves around Soran’s earnestness and believability, and Ron Menzel does an excellent job. He’s created a compelling, charismatic portrait of a young man who has been through hell and whose heart is still filled with love. Soran makes Sarah beautiful pizzas, with names exotic enough to melt any woman’s bookish heart—Arabian Nights, Purple Passion, and The Persian Kiss. It’s weird, but also sweet.
The speed bumps that the lovers hit on their way to the altar get chuckles, but many of the laughs come at the expense of greater depth. There is a lovely moment during Soran and Sarah’s first date. She looks at a picture of a thin boy on the wall and asks who it is. It’s him, a few months after he’d arrived at a refugee camp. The quiet moment of realization that sets in relays in five seconds what two hours doesn’t. Soran, having seen the worst humanity has to offer, craves beauty. Sarah, despite her fancy degrees, can’t fully comprehend it.
Poetry is the stuff of fairy tales, though, and everything works out in the end. It’s a little ridiculous, but a lot better than the alternative. Everyone, even thinly written characters, deserves a happy ending.
The Poetry of Pizza runs through February 10 at the Mixed Blood Theatre.