5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Benjamin Forster
So, what sort of America have we finally come to? From the description of the play Edibles Incorporated, it’s no longer enough that the U.S. has devolved into a dystopian wonderland. Now, it’s dyspeptic nightmare, too. The title, you see, refers to the name of the only purveyor of beef in the nation — a company forced to shut down its branch in Bayonne, NJ, after “an aggressive American cattle epidemic” kills a “beloved secretary.” More alarming, the epidemic “renders beef a quickly evaporating commodity.”
Yes, you smell some satire, some parody. Yes, you’ve entered the mind of playwright Benjamin Forster.
But Forster’s hot-to-the-touch skewering of American corporate mores and morons doesn’t stop there. Some 50 Edibles workers are being “protected from themselves by Tom, a rent-a-cop,” and waiting to be fired. They may wait for some time as Glenn, the PR flack, is busy trying to control “Bayonne’s self-medicating branch manager.” Oh, did I mention the fat characters? Yikes.
Forster, by the way, seems like an enterprising fellow, with just enough salt and pepper to season his writing. He’s a graduate of NYU, a writer and performer. And lucky enough to be hooked up with the sizzling Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church for the project. Sounds gristle-free and yum.
Edibles Incorporated runs Aug. 26 to 28 at the aforementioned St. Mark’s Church (131 E. 10th St.); for more info. and tickets, do click here or call 212-352-3101.
And now, 5 questions Benjamin Forster has never been asked — and a bonus question:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Your criticism reeked of jealousy. That was great. My favorite part. Real sharp… That was intentional, right?” (not in the least)
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“How could we have bought into the sincerity of your character’s appeal for the presidency after he launched a screaming, spear-tackle attack on the cardboard cut-out of Joe Biden?”
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
(approached after show by unknown person) “How much do you want it, Benjamin?” (long pause) “Benjamin.” “Yes?” “How much?” “I have to feed my cats.” (I left. I don’t have cats. I felt bad about that. For a week or so.)
4) On the continuum of social commentary — with one extreme being satire and the other parody — where does Edibles Incorporated fall? Did you know a few corporations across the country use “Edibles Incorporated” as part of their name?
I didn’t know that. I shouldn’t be surprised. The word edible is so general. Edible Arrangements is my favorite usage. “Great sofa, Phil. May I eat some of it?”
… Is the show more satire or parody? I understand that, ultimately, the viewer’s brain will try to shove the play toward one extreme or the other, but the last thing we want to do is to ridicule any particular lifestyle or to promote the superiority of one over another. Originally, the script had elements of both parody and satire (a fat person cannot reach their dropped pen, becomes stuck, bent over, and is ridiculed by a colleague, for example), and drove home the notion that the corporate machine breeds lower forms of life. But eventually it morphed into a fairly straightforward story about the modern human trying to cope with issues we all have to face at one point or another — the death of a loved one; getting fired; quarter-, third- and mid-life crises, etc. — regardless of salary, education or hometown. (That said, there are certainly scenes that will be perceived as direct jabs at corporate America. A young Branch Manager, a shining beacon of achievement and success, cannot unfasten a woman’s bra, for example. But I know plenty of people who have trouble with that.)
5) To what degree have you been influenced by U.S. beef industry and what some believe are its grotesque standards and practices? Also, why Bayonne? Got a beef with Jersey?
I watched Super Size Me and I thought, “Gee, Mr. Spurlock, what exactly did you expect? A ripped physique?” That movie came about because of a lawsuit brought against McDonald’s on behalf of two overweight girls who blamed the chain for their utter fatness. Well, gee, girls, who, exactly, was doing the eating? Was Ronald McDonald visiting your homes and playfully forcing food down your throat? You are fat because you ate a whole ton of crappy food. It’s not rocket science. All I know about fast, chain food is that it makes me feel sick and tastes delicious. Like tequila. I don’t think McDonald’s is evil. I think their standards and practices are probably disgusting, just like the beef industry’s, but one doesn’t have to eat beef or Big Macs. If people have come to rely on such things, it’s their own fault. As for the whole I’m-too-poor-to-afford-anything-else argument? Bull—-. Groceries will always be cheaper than going out (except in Manhattan). People just have to get off their bums and cook. And as for Bayonne? I picked a town with a cool name. I like Jersey.
6) What is your personal experience with corporate America? What are the three things you would do immediately, if you could, to ameliorate the culture of corporate America?
I don’t have enough experience with corporate America to determine how to improve it. I’ve held a number of really odd jobs since high school, but none have been behind a desk. I have had many close friends work for huge companies, though, and the pervading issue they seem to encounter is a wash of insincerity. A lack of direct, sincere communication. They say they speak a language at work that forces everyone to be super nice to each other and thus, at times, passively aggressive. This cap on expression can breed anger and eventually hate (i.e., Steven Slater, bless his heart). I’m not sure how to mend that. I had the thought, at one point, to write a show (an extreme parody), that emphasized the office hierarchy: The boss was forced to wear a wizard’s cap and carry a bejeweled staff, the paige rode a mule around in rags delivering inter-office mail, and the secretary sang the office’s anthem every time she answered the phone. Not sure if that would help. People would take themselves less seriously, at least.