by W. Lehrer
This book/play is a quick-service circus of culinary discourse, dream, memory, loss, and twisted aspiration. It takes place over the course of a few hours of one day in the life of the original DREAM QUEEN restaurant (a restaurant that grew to become the third largest burger chain in the western hemisphere). Before the book/play begins, Gertie Greenbaum is found dead in a pool of blood and ketchup. Four customers and three employees (each set in his or her own typographic voice and color) give testimony to how Gertie died, as they struggle with their own destinies against a backdrop of greasy comfort. The text is illuminated with icons and images that evoke the DREAM QUEEN tableau, and the internal projections of the characters. By the end of the book/play, a variety of books that live within each of the characters are revealed. The idea for this project was born when my friend Dennis Bernstein and I were having lunch on the second floor of the West 4th Street McDonald's. At a certain point in the meal, we both realized that the place was living theater: one guy was there because it was warm and he could pick food left on the tables; mothers were there with their kids; a college student was trying to study; one couple was having a fight; another was smooching. We also became aware of the dynamics between management and staff, staff and customers, and a rich menu of interconnected themes related to American culture, fast-food, family, class, community, etc.. We decided to write a play set in a fast food restaurant. I quickly envisioned the cover of the book as a container of french fries a la McDonald's. Dennis (the well known muckraking journalist, radio producer and poet) and I began interviewing people under the guise of working on a book called The Potato in America. We heard many great stories about food, fast food, potatoes, and the life that surrounds food. One woman couldn't’t understand why anyone would want to write or read a book about the potato in America. As we talked she realized that she was in this country, in fact she was an American because her great grandfather had left Ireland due to the potato famine. A year later, we had finished writing the play which included a character named Louise Giallanza who writes a book called The Potato in America, replete with prophetic insights into the “hybrids of hope” (genetically engineered food such as topatoes and pomatoes).
Visual Studies Workshop Press
popular culture (AAT)
artists' books (LCSH)
book design (LCSH)
experimental drama (LCSH)
inspiration: Additional influences include Kevin Osborn’s colorful and active Real Lush, Phil Zimmermann’s Civil Defense, a 3-color John Cage Great Bear pamphlet published and produced by Dick Higgins, Massin’s book design of Ionesco’s Bald Soprano, and fast food graphics everywhere. [W. Lehrer]
related works: Other of the author/artists' works such as i mean you know, Crossing the Blvd. and The Portrait Series. [T. Shaw]
community: workshop Visual Studies Workshop and Space Heater Editions. [T. Shaw]
exhibition history: The ear/say ensemble performed FRENCH FRIES in a number of venues throughout the country. Exactly twenty years after performing FRENCH FRIES at VSW in conjunction with an exhibition of the book and its process, I returned to VSW to do a performance with my wife Judith Sloan based on our book Crossing the BLVD.
manuscript type: other
location: artist's archive
note: Press sheets and posters at Visual Studies Workshop.