Abe Koogler’s New Play Is an Ode to Intense Culinary Experiences

Abe Koogler didn’t grow up going to many restaurants. He was raised on Vashon Island, Wash. — sparse and bucolic with an artsy populace, a few miles southwest of Seattle — in a house without a TV, where meals were mostly eaten at home, his free time spent fashioning handmade puppets onto chopsticks.

So when he moved to New York, a city with restaurants on virtually every corner, he found the hustle and bustle of Manhattan’s highbrow establishments fascinating.

“Living in New York, you walk by all these highly curated, beautiful, warm spaces where people are in the middle of this intense culinary experience,” Koogler said on a rainy afternoon in Midtown Manhattan. “And I like looking at these windows and imagining what it’s like for the people inside.”

“A lot of it is being fascinated and not knowing why,” he added.

Koogler, 39, is known for his darkly comedic plays about labor-intensive jobs in, for example, package inventory centers and slaughterhouses. Works about work. His latest, “Staff Meal,” about a beloved restaurant with a mysterious owner, has a similar setting (much of the story takes place in the prepping of food and serving of drinks) but with a notable diversion from his previous productions: Here is a job where the employees enjoy their work. In fact, they revere it.

The restaurant’s culture of veneration for food, wine and care-taking nods to Danny Meyer’s hospitality manifesto, “Setting the Table,” and though the play, which opens on April 28 at Playwrights Horizons, begins as a familiar meet-cute, it “progressively gets weirder and weirder,” said the show’s director, Morgan Green.

After first reading the script, she wondered, “How the hell do you stage it?”

“I was really excited about this down-the-rabbit-hole feeling,” she said, and about mapping out “that trajectory.”

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