The Passage Theatre Company opened the 2018-19 season on Sept. 29 in Trenton with an original play from writer, Josh Wilder, titled, “Salt Pepper Ketchup.”
Set in Philadelphia throughout the Obama years, the play opens inside of a Chinese-American take out restaurant with John Wu (Fenton Li) and his wife Linda (Chuja Seo) decorating their restaurant with American flags.
Neighborhood gangster, Tommy (Mark Christie) and his friend, Raheem (Jaron C. Battle) sit enjoying an order of chicken wings, while John begins to sweep the floor.
The two ask why the restaurant is covered with American flags and John informs them that he and his wife have finally become American citizens.
John continues speaks with the two and shares that he is living the “American Dream.” He plans on getting a loan now that he is an American citizen and buying out their entire building and renting it out to make a profit, then he wants to pay back the loan and do the same with the building next door.
John plans on continuing this and getting a monopoly going throughout the city. Through their discussion we learn how their neighborhood is changing, though. Companies are coming in and buying buildings and houses then turning them around for profit, like John wants to do.
John leaves the scene and we watch Raheem and Tommy as their talk turns from personal to business. We start to see a bit into their “business” and learn that Tommy has burnt down a building earlier in the week.
John reenters the scene and their conversation is cut short. He’s arguing with a hipster looking guy, by the name of Paul (Justin Pietropaolo). Paul is wearing a tee shirt with the words, “New Bold Community Co-Op” on it and is carrying a clipboard with pamphlets.
John attempts to kick Paul out of his restaurant, but Paul refuses to leave until John hears out what he has to say. Paul attempts to convince John to join the neighborhood co-op and uses the idea of fresh and organic products to do so. John continues to reject Paul’s proposition and Tommy and Raheem begin to laugh at the two arguing.
Paul notices the two for the first time and makes his way over to them, he sees them as potential members of his co-op. He pitches the co-op to them and the two actually seem to be interested and agree to look over the pamphlets he’s been carrying.
The first question they ask is how much a membership costs to join the co-op and when Paul tells them it’s $100 per year, they laugh in his face and crumple the pamphlets.
Paul tries to explain how they have a payment plan of only $20 per month for five months and the two attempt to explain to Paul that that sort of co-op has no business being in their neighborhood.
Boodah (Richard Bradford) and his cousin CeCe (Kendra Holloway) enter the scene. CeCe notices Paul and introduces herself to him. Paul begins to pitch her the idea of the co-op and tries to sell her a membership as well.
CeCe sees the hundred-dollar price of a membership and, like Tommy and Raheem, laughs in Paul’s face. Paul begins to question CeCe and asks how often she comes to the Wu’s restaurant. CeCe tells him that she comes there every single day and that the Wu’s are family to her, they even have a picture of her son in their window.
Paul quickly tallies how much money she spends on Chinese take out a year based off of the price of her most recent order. Coming to the conclusion of over two thousand dollars a year, Paul insists that CeCe’s lifestyle isn’t the healthiest one.
CeCe consults with her fortune cookie that tells her to grasp new opportunities and agrees to sign up for the twenty dollar a month payment plan.
She hands him a credit card and Paul swipes it through on a portable card reader. He explains to her that all she has to do is go down to the co-op and pick up her membership card at the customer service desk. CeCe says that she is going to do that right now and exits the scene.
John then turns his sites back to Paul and immediately kicks him out of his restaurant. Within minutes, their phone rings and they get a call from a health inspector for a surprise inspection. John announces that he is closing the store for the day because they need to clean.
John suspects it was Paul who called the health inspector on them and explains to his wife how Paul and other businesses are trying to force them out. Linda then breaks the news to John that they did not get approved for their loan. Linda suggests that maybe joining the co-op wouldn’t be that bad, maybe if they were to join they would stop coming after them. She leaves the scene after John refuses to hear her out.
Tommy, who stayed in the restaurant with Raheem and Boodah while the Wu’s were cleaning, brings up what he does for “business” to John. He explains how he is “Mr. Fix-It” in the neighborhood and he takes care of problems. John agrees to work with Tommy and the two set their plan into motion.
The scene changes and it is now night, John and Tommy go through their plan once more, while Raheem waits to go. Tommy asks for a quart of grease and a deposit for the “job.” John doesn’t trust him and agrees to give him free food as a deposit and pay for the job following it’s completion. Tommy agrees and the two exit out of the back of the restaurant.
Paul comes to the front following Tommy and Raheem’s departure. John tells Linda that he decided to listen to what she said and hear out Paul on his co-op. Paul thanks the two for meeting with him and begins to pitch the co-op to the two.
Paul pitches them the neighborhood co-op and explains how the co-op has a vision to change the entire neighborhood to make it more modern and healthier for everyone. Linda likes the idea and through mixed words with John, she convinces him to sign a contract with Paul and join the plan for a new neighborhood.
CeCe then enters the store. She starts screaming at Paul and demands to get her $20 monthly payment back. She explains how she went to the co-op to pick up her membership and even decided to do some shopping and bring some healthy food home for her son. She picked up a few things until she realized how expensive everything in the store was. CeCe attempted to pay with food stamps until she was told that the co-op didn’t accept them.
Now, standing in the Wu’s restaurant, CeCe continues to scream at Paul and demands her money back.
Paul realizes that he is about to lose a member, tries to convince CeCe to stay, he promises her a gift card in place of a refund.
CeCe now enraged even more, wants to attack Paul. John starts to hold her back, and CeCe takes out her phone to call her cousin Boodah.
Sirens can be heard from outside and CeCe goes to the window to see what’s happening. She finds the co-op on fire and is instantly pleased. Tommy reenters the Wu’s.
Paul calls 911 as Boodah enters the restaurant. Boodah immediately grabs Paul and demands the money back. Paul tries to explain the situation, but Boodah won’t listen. Paul attempts to flee the restaurant, but Tommy blocks the door.
Tommy throws a few punches at Paul and he drops to the ground. Boodah jumps in and joins Tommy in pummeling Paul.
Police officers enter with guns drawn and one goes off and Tommy drops to the ground. The first act closes with the officers arresting everyone but John, Linda and Paul.
“Salt Pepper Ketchup,” continues at Passage Theatre, 205 E Front Street, Trenton, through Oct. 14. For tickets and information, go to www.passagetheatre.org; 609-392-0766.