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‘Food Stories’ serves up pure pleasure

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Fine dining: Soren Oliver and Molly Benson are terrific in “Sorry Fugu

When comically gifted director John Fisher, the exquisite Word for Word ensemble and a well-balanced pair of literary short stories converge on the Z Space stage, the result is theatrical magic. You ought to run, not walk, for tickets.

Word for Word, which presents literature verbatim in the most delightful and inventive ways, chose the sublime sensuality of food — and its various ramifications and resonances — as the common thread in “Food Stories.”

In the evening’s first story, T.C. Boyle’s satirical “Sorry Fugu,” the angst-ridden chef-owner (a sweating, hyperventilating, pitch-perfect Soren Oliver) of a high-end Northern Italian restaurant in Los Angeles is distraught, anticipating an inevitable visit from Willa Frank, the foremost local food critic (Molly Benson, looking like a young Jane Fonda); Frank is known to cruelly decimate every restaurant in town.

The much-feared critic’s series of visits generates chaos in the sleek, shiny restaurant kitchen and adjoining dining room (Mikiko Uesugi served as set designer) and has a goofy and surprising outcome.

Under Fisher’s direction, the action plays out with the finesse and hilarity of a comic ballet. The superb cast includes Delia MacDougall’s game and sympathetic baker (who’s also the chef’s fiancée), and Rudy Guerrero, Gendell Hernandez and Patricia Silver in several clearly-differentiated roles apiece.

Benson is terrific not only as the alarming food critic in a platinum wig and clingy red dress (Laura Hazlett designed the costumes) but also as an amiably slouchy kitchen aide.

The second story, Alice McDermott’s delicate “Enough,” traces, in compact form and elegantly simple writing, the entire lifespan of an unremarkable American woman who immediately captures our hearts.

The story begins in the 1930s (Fisher matches both tales with period music) and continues into the woman’s old age.

As a child (played by MacDougall, pretty in pink), she loves to clear the table after family dinners so she can secretly lick the traces of ice cream from spoons and bowls; as a young girl, she cavorts joyfully on the sofa with a series of eager young men, much to her older sister’s dismay; and finally, after a series of childbirths and miscarriages, she arrives at widowed old age (when she’s played by Silver) — still savoring life’s sensorial joys.

“Pleasure is pleasure,” she sighs, and the understated pronouncement rings true.

It’s a spare, crystalline story, beautifully told here. And a warning: You’ll want to head for the nearest ice cream parlor afterward.


Food Stories

Presented by Word for Word

Where: Z Space at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 5
Tickets: $30 to $40
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.zspace.org

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