The set for Oatmeal and a Cigarette incorporates more afghans than you could shake a knitting needle at, and pretty soon we know why. Doting big brother Claire, who has been raising Billy for 27 years and answers to “Mommie,” knits in the evenings. Knits enough security blankets for a regiment.
The premise here — Billy is 30 but thinks he’s 3 — is open to plenty of cheap laughs but the script and the cast sidestep temptation. As Billy, Daniel J. Kiely uses his considerable bulk to terrific effect; dread locks and beard only setting off his open face where expressions as pure as primary colors come and go. Claire (Karl Gregory) and Babysitter Jane (Madeline Maher) are in what is at first an unspoken rivalry for Billy’s trust. The competition quickly becomes not only verbal but also loud. Both need Billy to complete their visions of themselves. Claire’s seeing himself as Mommie might stem from a mother who decamped; Babysitter (and graduate student) Jane needs him for the practical purpose of her thesis. Billy is her subject, publication her object, and removal of Billy from what she sees as an unhealthy environment a collateral issue.
Sex is the wild card, of course. Billy’s sexuality. Even for someone who thinks he’s 3, those post-puberty urges come along. Babysitter Jane faces more than she bargained for.
This play, sharp and together and headed inexorably down its road, reached finished form through group action by Bad Dog! Productions of Ithaca, N.Y. The three actors, playwright and director George Sapio (founder of Bad Dog!) and Melissa Thompson, stage manager and Sapio’s co-director, took the idea of Billy and played with it through “improvisation, character games, acting exercises, until the characters and story started to show,” Sapio says. Then he began to write, with continual input from his collaborators.
This is ensemble work ticking along at high speed, with results that are extremely funny and surprisingly moving. All three cast members inhabit their parts as though they lived them, and the pace of the show is just right. Throw in a great imitation of a lawn mower and a tooth-brushing scene that touches the heart, and you have Oatmeal and a Cigarette.
A minor quibble: Karl Gregory looks way too young to be Daniel J. Kiely’s older brother and must have taken over supplying his oatmeal at the age of 2. But that’s not vital. Suspension of disbelief is what theater is all about.
— Jane Durrell