Through Sunday, Nov. 3

PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill

New York food critic Allison Acre is distinctly not amused by the amuse-bouche before her at a tony new locavore restaurant. It’s too minimalist, for starters: a single snow pea, plated on white porcelain, picked that morning from the eatery’s own upstate farm. Plus, it’s being served by a waiter with more than a soupçon of attitude. “The Chef wants our diners to experience the taste of fresh spring soil,” she simpers.  

Acre looks at the dubious morsel, and then asks, “Did you wash it?”

In Dairyland, Heidi Armbruster’s bracing new comedy, which is currently in its premiere run at PlayMakers Rep, this acerbic central character is more than slightly over what big-city excess has done to the farm-to-table movement. Incensed that bourgeois jerks in Bushwick are bilking customers, “charging sixty-five dollars a plate for vegetables because they were picked by someone with a master’s degree,” the loose-cannon food writer launches a quixotic solo crusade against one of the hottest food trends in recent decades.

That move does not endear her to Declan (Khalil LeSaldo), her editor and former boyfriend. After columns and a subsequent TV debate provoke hate mail and complaints from advertisers, Acre is forced to retreat to the Wisconsin dairy farm where she grew up. Trouble awaits her there as well: a broken relationship with her aging, taciturn father, Henry (Ray Dooley), who’s having increasing trouble running the farm by himself.

Armbruster knows both the loneliness of farm life and the lonely sojourn of professional women. While her script is sympathetic to Acre, it doesn’t minimize that she’s a bit of a mess: emotionally volatile, reeling on the rebound, and working with an ethically opportunistic ex-lover who decides if she still get published.

Director Vivienne Benesch crisply propels Acre (Claire Karpen) across a complicated interpersonal landscape. She draws equally memorable work from Dooley, in his one-hundredth production at PlayMakers, as Henry, a man whose emotional barricades hide deep feelings.

Before Acre can report the truth about decidedly non-artisanal farming, she has to re-find her own place in that world and attempt to reconcile the urban and the rural parts of her own life. That’s hard work, and it’s visible in Dairyland.