Too many empty calories in I Love to Eat
Garry Geiken as James Beard, the culinary maestro
Lauren B. Photography
Like James Beard, the sole character in James Still's play, I love to eat. I also love to cook -- that was forged by my chef father and a childhood spent experimenting in the kitchen. I cooked my way through high school and college, and made more money in restaurants than I did at my first couple of newspaper jobs.
So I'm definitely in the market for a play about Beard, especially as his no-nonsense, "food for the people" cooking aesthetic closely matches my own. And the moments in Still's play that focus on Beard's own love affair with food are engaging and delightful. Sadly, those get muddled with a lot of extra material that may tell us more about the character, but don't show us what really made him tick.
There are certainly interesting moments in Beard's life. The chef was born in nearly pioneer-era Oregon (his father traveled west in a covered wagon), dreamed of becoming an opera singer, and almost accidentally became a world-renowned success.
The story is told at the end of his life. It is 1984, and Beard is alone in his apartment in the middle of the night, inviting the audience into his home for a late-night talk. Along the way, he fields calls from the famous, other friends, and complete strangers. He talks about his theory of cooking and his love of travel, all the while moments from his past interrupt him.
It's a kaleidoscope approach. It's certainly more satisfying than a strictly linear one, but I found myself wanting to know more about the food side of Beard and less of the asides to his life. The play is most alive when the character is in the kitchen, making up his signature onion sandwiches, and just leading us through the recipe.
Actor Garry Geiken works hard to make the connection between Beard and audience. Maybe he is working too hard -- the chemistry between the lone actor and us felt strained, as if he was trying to force us to be entertained instead of just enjoying our time at the show. I don't think the material is doing him any favors, as Geiken is forced to follow the play's wandering path that has plenty of built-in lulls.
Director Michael Robins crafts a clever production, aided by Dean Holzman's set and Michael Keck's complex sound design. I wanted to like I Love to Eat, but the play itself kept me from fully indulging in this meal.
IF YOU GO:
I Love to Eat: A Love Story with Food Through May 18 Illusion Theater, Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, 8th Floor 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis $15-$18 For tickets and more information, call 612.339.4944 or visit online.
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