From left, Devon deGroot, Laura Espino and Paul Stout are excellent in Custom Made Theatre Co.’s “American Hero.” (Courtesy Jay Yamada)

‘American Hero’ a tasty, if light, look at franchise workers

Delightfully set in a strip mall submarine sandwich shop, Bess Wohl’s “American Hero” takes an amusing look at the plight of low-wage workers.

Allie Moss lovingly directs Custom Made Theatre Company’s Bay Area premiere of the comedy, which showcases a uniformly great cast: Devon deGroot plays Sheri, a tired but amiable young woman who sleeps in her car so she can easily commute between the sub store and another job at a taco joint, and Laura Espino is her co-worker Jamie, a sassy, sarcastic, uninhibited single mom desperate to remain employed.

Paul Stout completes the staff of “sandwich artists” as the irrepressibly optimistic Ted, a downsized Bank of America employee with a business degree.

At the outset, after interviews in which seemingly no qualifications are required, they’re trained by Bob, the new owner of the Toasted Subs franchise (the versatile David Boyll, who also portrays a customer, guy from corporate and a giant-sized sandwich in a dream sequence of sorts).

Bob, an immigrant with a foreign accent (a doctor in his home country!) reads from a manual in a looseleaf binder during a training session in which the workers — a “baser,” “finisher” and “wrapper” — rush to make a sandwich in the prescribed 20 seconds. It’s a hoot.

But things go awry when Bob abruptly leaves, disappearing completely, soon after opening day.

Trying to decide who to contact, the workers initially clash, but settle on calling the regional franchise office, which tells them to keep the store open.

Minus replenishments of meat, cheese and bread, they do, ultimately figuring out a viable, even successful, work-around as the script explores issues surrounding today’s workers — how they’re at the mercy of big business’ bureaucracy, indifference and greed.

Wohl brings a light touch to the proceedings, offering up absurdity rather than stinging, scathing satire that really digs deep. And while the result perhaps feels more like a tasty bite than a satisfying, fully balanced meal, “American Hero” nonetheless serves up food for thought.

Zippy background music, a fantastic set by Heather Kenyon and excellent costumes by Erika Mae Martin and props by Stephanie Dittbern round out the fun. With photos of giant sub sandwiches, signs with menu items, slogans and exclamation points, and a flowing soda dispenser, the stage indeed looks like any number of dreary franchise shops dotting America’s cities and suburbs.

American Hero
Presented by Custom Made Theatre Company
Where: 533 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes April 6
Tickets: $20 to $45
Contact: (415) 798-2682,

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