GENESEO – SUNY Geneseo’s upcoming play wants to digest humanity’s eternal relationship with food, in a sometimes serious and sometimes hilarious light.
The ‘dramedy’ adaptation of Tina Howe’s The Art of Dining doesn’t quite settle as either a comedy or a drama, says the SUNY Geneseo professor who is directing the play, Randy Barbara Kaplan.
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“I’ve wanted to do this for 30 years,” said Kaplan. “The Art of Dining shows the different ways we interact with food, which has to do with anything but what food actually is.”
The show centers around Cal, played by junior Joshua Shabshis, and his wife, chef Ellen, played by first year student Courtney King, who have sold everything they own in order to open an upscale restaurant in their own home, The Golden Carousel.
As they run the chaos of a restaurant, they are visited by numerous distinguished characters who all have their own personal relationships and rituals around food. According to the press release, the characters “run the gamut” of eating habits, from the addicted to the pathological.
“People use food in so many ways, whether it’s for seduction, for control, punishment, self-loathing,” says Kaplan. “The Art of Dining treats both seriously and humorously all the ways people interact with food.”
Set Designer Steven Stubblefield and Light and Sound Technician Johnnie Ferrel, who are both professors at the school, help to create the aura of fine dining in their theatre. According to Kaplan, she and Stubblefield began shopping for kitchenware in the summer, scavenging Bed, Bath & Beyonds for immersion blenders and silverware.
The original off-Broadway production was outfitted with a full kitchen and served upscale meals to the actors nightly, according to a 1986 Chicago Tribune article. Entertainment writer Sid Smith, when reviewing the play, wrote “the odors of food and wine are omnipresent in the air.”
SUNY Geneseo students nix the actual food, says Kaplan, “but it’s fun for the actors! They actually make you smell it, make you taste it.”
The difficulties that come with incorporating food with props is, according to Kaplan, part of what led her to push back pursuit of the play for so long.
“There’s no food on the table or in the oven that we bought, actors wash dishes that haven’t had food on them,” says Kaplan.”I had resigned myself to never doing it because it was so technologically demanding. Imagine heavy cream resting for an hour under stage lights. Once I came to jettison the idea of using actual food, I was able to do the play.”
The show has men flaunting their corpulence while women count their calories and disparage their bodies. One exchange has a man patting his belly while a woman spits her food into a napkin.
“This draws an interesting gender divide which should be talked about,” says Kaplan. “I remember my days as a dance major at Ohio State University when we would see who could eat the least at dinner.”
Kaplan added that regardless of one’s relationship with food, she hopes people remember the funny stuff, and that they’re able to tease out that which is more serious, including the role of food in redemption and self-forgiveness.
The show will run from Wednesday, Nov. 11 to Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. in the Alice Austin Theatre in Brodie Hall.
Tickets are available for $10 at the College Union Box Office, and at the Brodie Hall Box Office from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 9 and Nov. 10, from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. between Nov. 11 to Nov. 14, and from 12 noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15. Tickets can also be purchased online at bbo.geneseo.edu.
Phone reservations cannot be taken without a credit card. Latecomers cannot be seated until intermission.