Chicago Theatre Review
A Recipe for Following One’s Dream
To Master the Art
Be warned: do not attend this production on an empty stomach! And you don’t have to be a foodie; but, by the end of this exquisite production, you may become one. In a production that teases all the senses, audiences will not only laugh while learning how being an expatriate in 1950’s Paris influenced this famous cook, author and teacher, but will fall hopelessly in love with her, as well. In a remounting of TimeLine Theatre’s 2010 Jeff-nominated play (thanks to the newly-formed Chicago Commercial Collective, whose focus is on producing outstanding, quality area productions with a proven popularity), audiences have another opportunity to discover the woman that was Julia Child, her loving husband Paul, their family and inspirational friends, and how the famous French Chef followed her dream to create her culinary series, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
As the lights come up on the French bistro wherein Julia first realizes her passion for excellent food and her need for cooking skills, both the audience and Ms. Child can literally smell shallots cooking in butter. In a subsequent scene, set at the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, we’re treated to the delicious fragrance of eggs being scrambled, even as we (and Julia) learn the correct method for preparing them. As to be expected, this play is seasoned with food, both real and described. The only drawback is that you leave craving a midnight snack.
Playwrights William Brown and Doug Frew have crafted a provocative script, often alternating between scenes drawn from real life with epistle enactments, depicting the typical American in Paris following the War. But it also examines the unsettling effects of America’s fear of Communism, as well as how Julia went from cooking novice to legendary culinary co-author and television personality. However, in spite of enduring their trials and tribulations, the play succeeds best as a tribute to the love and undying devotion shared between Julia and Paul Child.
Directed once again by playwright William Brown, and reuniting most of his original cast, Karen Janes Woditsch and Craig Spidle have the Childs down perfectly. Those familiar with the 2009 film “Julie & Julia” already have an image of this loving couple based on the performances by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, but Woditsch and Spidle immediately win over audiences anew. The actress not only has perfectly mastered Child’s distinctive vocal pitch and speech patterns, but her tall frame and ’50’s coif convince us she’s the French Chef. Other standout performances include talented Heidi Kettenring, so moving as the couple’s friend Jane (whose own story could be another play); the always wonderful and versatile Janet Ulrich Brooks both as the ethnocentric Madame Brassart and as Julia’s American pen pal Avis; Jeannie Affelder in several roles, including Julia’s hilariously wry co-author Simca; Terry Hamilton playing both Julia’s xenophobic father and her first teacher and friend, Chef Bugnard; and TimeLine newcomer Sam Ashton as Julia’s likable Southern cooking buddy, Carolina.
Almost like another character is Keith Pitts‘ flexible set that easily becomes a fancy French bistro that bookends the action of the play, the famed cooking school, an outdoor French marketplace, a US government interrogation room and, of course, Julia Child’s kitchen. Charles Cooper’s design bathes this story in warm lighting and Rachel Anne Healy clothes her characters in period fashions, while Andrew Hansen’s simple, evocative piano sound design provides a lovely bridge between time and place.
As a bio-drama this production will inform while inspiring adventurous cooks to give Ms. Child’s recipes a try; as an entertainment the play will appeal to adult audiences through its poignance, humanity and humor; but for many, TimeLine’s production will serve as a theatrical appetizer that will prompt audiences to visit their Theatre again for upcoming productions, and also maybe to find and enjoy a good French restaurant following the show.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented Sept. 17-Oct. 20 by TimeLine Theatre Company and the Chicago Commercial Collective at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut.
Tickets are available by calling 800-775-2000 or by going www.BroadwayinChicago.com
**To enhance the enjoyment of this fine production, several pre-show tastings, provided by Chicago’s Le Cordon Bleu, and cooking classes, taught by Sur La Table chefs, will be offered to patrons; post-show discussions provided by a variety of chefs from area 5-star restaurants will be also be available following some performances. Inquire about dates for these events when purchasing tickets.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com