Half a century of hard work on a hot dog stand is a highly unusual subject for a one hour comedy. It might not sound promising but believe me this punchy production packs a lifetime’s worth of love, laughter and hilarious incidents into sixty minutes.
The stage is set with an ingenious flat-pack stand in the traditional red and mustard-yellow colours of the genuine Nathan’s Hot Dog store in New York’s Coney Island, famously patronised over the decades by gangsters, film stars, royalty and presidents. The props – radio, hot dogs, sauce bottles – are stylish 2D cardboard cut-outs, but there is nothing two-dimensional about the acting. From the first second, the audience is swept along by the non-stop larger-than-life characterisation of the entrepreneurial couple and the panoply of people populating their world.
Nathan Peter Grassi and Ida Berglöw Kenneway tumble with the energy and grace of a couple of accomplished clowns headlong through their story, loosely based on that of the real-life couple Nathan and Ida (yes, really!) Handwerker. It tells of two immigrants (the “Hardwerkers") struggling to make their way in the New World, their fierce rivalry with the neighbouring Feltman’s beer garden, Ida’s secret sauce recipe, Nathan’s PR stunts, and their ultimate success in creating an iconic brand which has lasted a century so far.
These compelling and engaging actors move effortlessly from one character or scene to another with a swift 360-degree twirl. They hold the audience spellbound with their hilarious antics, facial expressions, occasional puppetry and ingenious comic episodes and flights of fancy. The show is brilliantly written, evoking the era with quirky old American slang, a nostalgic musical soundtrack and fabulous contemporary New York cameo personalities, from the Coney Island cardsharp to the range of reporters embodying the newspapers and magazines of the day.
In the end, the real star of the show is the wonderful relationship between the couple: their enduring affection, humour and dedication to each other through thick and thin shines through every moment.
This show left me with a warm glow inside, a smile on my lips and a tear in my eye.