Like many people, I’ve worked service industry jobs while aspiring to bigger and better things and that experience is part of what drew me to Pressgang Theatre’s Served by Graham Isador. It’s a site-specific service industry confessional playing in the intimate upstairs space at Queen West’s Epicure Café as part of this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival.
Served centres on Sandra (Jillian Welsh), a twenty-something restaurant server, brimming with ambition but a bit self-deluded and entitled in the way Millennials are often characterized. She dreams of being a rock star. Go big or go home, right?
I found the character kind of off-putting at first until I remembered that I was also pretty much an insufferable little shit when I worked as a server; too good to be doing this but not really having a clue what my next step to achieving my lofty dreams would be, so her character really rang true for me.
Together with an overbearing manager (Ron Kelly) and a sympathetic fellow server (En Lai Mah), Sandra sets about working a typical shift at her job. The team encounters familiar challenges; a hostess who never shows up, a customer (Glyn Bowerman) complaining that his “salad is too cold,” the kitchen constantly running out of the special, etc.
If you’ve ever worked a service job those scenarios will sound hilarious and all too familiar but, just as I was starting to wonder if Served would only be a collection of these service industry tropes, Isador takes strides to develop some deeper layers.
Throughout the play, Isador draws the analogy that Sandra’s service job is a sort of Purgatory; the comparison is most clearly illustrated during a fantasy sequence with her manager where she reveals how utterly trapped she feels by her job. It’s a clever device to explore character’s psyche.
Another particularly effective fantasy sequence draws a comparison between the dinner rush service and a battlefield with the staff frantically moving about the space while barking commands at each other. Anybody who has ever worked a busy service will tell you that the battle analogy is apt.
I also loved the directors’ (Tom Arthur Davis and Graham Isador) immersive staging and thought that it really elevated the piece. The space is intimate, the audience is seated at four small tables and the performers move about the entire space, performing in close proximity to the audience often interacting with audience members.
At one point I became an unwitting scene partner with Glyn Bowerman, who plays several different customers throughout the piece. Luckily, I wasn’t expected to do much more than sit and look dumbfounded, barely containing my smirk as he laid into me.
In the end, I thought Served was one of the strongest service industry pieces I’ve seen at the Fringe. It’s funny and relatable but also delivers some depth to its characters and the immersive staging is clever and fun and really makes the piece pop. It’s definitely worth watching. Be warned, the venue is tiny and only a few tickets remain for the later shows in the run so snatch them up now.
- Served is playing until July 12 at the Epicure Café. (502 Queen St West)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the peformance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
- Warnings: Mature Language
- July 01 at 07:00 PM
- July 02 at 07:00 PM
- July 03 at 07:00 PM
- July 04 at 07:00 PM
- July 05 at 07:00 PM
- July 07 at 07:00 PM
- July 08 at 07:00 PM
- July 09 at 07:00 PM
- July 10 at 07:00 PM
- July 11 at 07:00 PM
- July 12 at 07:00 PM
Photo of Jill Welsh and Ron Kelly provided by the company