AMERICAN MENU, Chicago Theatre Company. Don Wilson Glenn's play, receiving its Chicago premiere, includes charming characters and convincing dialogue but is simultaneously overfamiliar and unpersuasive. Five waitresses in a Texas diner in 1968 swap stories of their personal lives, debate the consequences of the civil rights movement, and disagree about the existence of God and justice in the wake of a local murder. The diner evokes Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore; the all-female southern setting hints at Steel Magnolias; and the black community's internal conflicts suggest any number of better plays on the subject of civil rights. American Menu is also atypical of the period: though the women refer to Dr. King, they're preoccupied by the Freedom Riders, whose work had ended three or four years earlier.
Director Douglas Alan-Mann sets the pace and lets his actresses loose, and they reward him with performances more convincing than the script. As Johnnie May, the plainspoken heart of the kitchen, Squeaky Moore is warm and strong in equal measure. Zelda Pulliam is appealing as supervisor Na, though less disillusioned and careworn than her lines suggest. But because the playwright changes his mind between acts about whose play it is, the solid Debrah Neal as doubt-ridden Martha is eclipsed by Tiffany Addison's flighty Buella, who without warning becomes the key player in everyone's life.