The English Only Restaurant, North Avenue Productions, at Voltaire. Silvio Martinez Palau’s extremely clever comedy is still frighteningly relevant seven years after is was first produced by the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York. Set in a restaurant owned by a Latino immigrant who forbids employees and patrons from speaking Spanish, the play explores American attitudes about immigration, class, and race and how language can be a tool of both empowerment and oppression. In the wake of recent immigration bills and the furor over Ebonics, The English Only Restaurant emerges as a play of political importance. But rather than spelling out his own views, Palau, in the great tradition of Bertolt Brecht, finds a heightened theatrical style and lets us draw our own conclusions. The outrageousness of the setting distances us enough from our own world to perceive the absurdity of the drama. But Palau packs his punches with an ending that is not easily forgotten and in doing so gives one pause to think hard about the similar rage over language occurring in the United States today.
Frank Farrell’s direction is smooth, and the enthusiastic cast plays the right note in accepting this disturbing world as true. Lily Fortin is especially strong as Patricia Rodriguez, the woman who refuses to play by the restaurant’s absurd rules. –Gabrielle S. Kaplan