In Mumburger at off the WALL, the bereaved get hamburgers | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

In Mumburger at off the WALL, the bereaved get hamburgers

Heather Mull

Cremation is for the forgettable. If you really want to leave a mark after you're gone, have your flesh ground into patties and served as hamburgers to the bereaved. 

That's more or less the idea of Mumburger, Sarah Kosar's surreal, genuine, lovely play getting its American premiere at off the WALL's Carnegie Theater this month. A mom dies in a car accident and leaves behind a will stipulating that her body be burger-fied and delivered to her widower, Hugh, and daughter, Tiffany, for consumption. 

The premise provokes plenty of questions for both the audience and the characters — who did the butchering? Why burgers? Not the least of which is the fact that the family was/is vegan, and the late mother was the fiercest vegan of the three. In the note that accompanies the bag of soggy, thawing meat delivered to Hugh's apartment, she explains that, in terms of overall carbon footprint, consuming a dead human body is actually the best for the environment. Not sure if that holds up, but the logic that guides Mumburger isn't exactly a straight line. 

Heather Mull

As the story unfolds and Hugh (Ken Bolden) and Tiffany (Jessie Wray Goodman) grapple with the oddness of this request, their uneasy dynamic comes into focus. He's sweet, a little dopey and awkward, entering a "liking too many of daughter's Facebook posts" phase as the play opens. Tiffany is a talented spoken-word artist, which he calls "rapping." She's grown tired of his stilted efforts to hang out with her, which are genuine and good-intentioned, though it's clear he knows little-to-nothing about her life. Does she still have that waitressing job? Hugh's not sure. 

And so they bicker and patter around the set of Hugh's apartment in London (Kosar is originally from Butler County, and now lives in the U.K., where Mumburger premiered in 2016). It's not particularly big, but stage manager Heidi Nagle and director Robyn Parrish somehow create considerable space out of it. When the play opens, Tiffany is furiously typing on a laptop under a duvet as Hugh sits on the other side of the room playing with an iPad. It's a quiet, unassuming visual, but it cleverly telegraphs their troubled dynamic without putting too fine a point on it. 

Mumburger is packed with similarly well-crafted details. Without getting too much into the "alternative meat" storyline, what's left is an intimate, well-acted exploration of grief and family. Everything from the sound design (Shannon Knapp) to the props (Kim Crawford) have a way of grounding this elaborate, strange story in reality, and it works. You might even forget about that bag of human meat thawing in the fridge. 

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