The Art of Dining

Pendulous breasts, roast duckling, carousel horses, snowy white thighs, hollandaise sauce, china acorns, and orgasms over delicious food. What do each of these have in common? They are all crucial elements of The Art of Dining by Tina Howe, an upcoming main-stage production at the Royall Tyler Theatre… And this is only the beginning.

Ellen and Cal have risked everything to pursue their dream of owning and operating their own gourmet restaurant. Set in a full, working kitchen, complete with hot burners, a cold refrigerator, and sharp knives, this is the story of one raucous evening of dining in a small New Jersey restaurant on a freezing November night. The young couple’s reputation, livelihood, and marriage are on the line as they struggle to live up to the high praise of early food critics and the strange demands of their customers.

You think your parents are eccentric? Wait until you meet the Galts. You think your childhood was traumatic? Wait until you hear about Elizabeth’s. You think your friends are embarrassing? You won’t believe the topics that three ladies plow through as they fight over their bodies and meals. But I’m not going to say any more about the plot; you are just going to have to come and find out for yourself if all these seemingly normal people can make it through dinner without getting too crazy, too hateful, or falling too painfully in love.

“I love the play. It is funny and a bit disturbing,” says director Sarah Carleton. “I like how Tina Howe brings out the beast in all of us and why that comes to the surface, especially while we dine. All the characters in the play are hungry, some more than others; they all need to satisfy this hunger and it is reflected in the way they behave.”

Interestingly, I have found that the offstage characters seem nearly as eccentric as the onstage one. When I asked a few of the cast members for their point of view on the show they were very insightful. They have clearly had to push themselves to fill these tough acting roles. “Playing Elizabeth is great, but it is a stretch,” says Katie Bosely. “I mean, you can’t just play some 90-pound waif when you’re pushing 107 pounds now can you? Of course, we are both raving lunatics, me and Elizabeth I mean. There’s always that.”

Lauren Kelston has also had a real job on her hands playing a woman struggling with her self-image. “I like my breasts, so it is interesting to play a character that is so uncomfortable with her body.” Clearly, a tough acting hurdle.

Some of the characters get to experience lives they only wish they could, such as David Benjamin Jadwin. “I love playing Paul; he reminds me of the excessively wealthy, abusive, unloving father I never had. I also get to sit next to and nuzzle with one of the most beautiful and talented actresses of stage and screen, so I got that going for me.” For all you non-actors, this is the real benefit of getting involved with theatre; Illusory intimacy.

Speaking of intimacy, Melissa Quine has a couple hot scenes with a character that is very special to her; “I really enjoy talking to the bass. They are actually really good listeners. They also don’t have ears. I’m sure there’s a connection.” Melissa plays Ellen who is the chef. Of her cooking expertise she says, “The only prior experience I’ve had with hollandaise sauce is when you add water to a packet. I can’t even make French toast. Although I’m able to open a can in three seconds flat… Any can.” Fortunately, Chef Dean Thomas of New England Culinary Institute is coming to her rescue with some last-minute training.

I play Hannah Galt, who wears mink and drools over every variety of meat on the menu, an interesting adjustment since I have been a vegetarian for ten years. In fact, working on this play has stirred some real drama between the meat and non-meat eaters. I have not been able to get a quote from actress Lizzie Chazen, but if I did I’m sure it would be, “Go vegan!” Meanwhile our Irish import Patrick Buchanan’s input is simply “I’d like to start by saying that I love steak!” A good thing since he plays Cal, who has to promote much meat, fish, and fowl as the evening unfolds.

So if you crave some gourmet cooking and would like an escape from the cold for an evening, come join us inside one of the wildest, sexiest, most accident-prone restaurants in The Art of Dining. You will surely find yourself in one of these characters’ delicious neuroses.

The Art of Dining runs February 25h through March 7th. All tickets are under $15 and can be purchased at (802) 656-2094, or online at www.uvmtheatre.org.