by CHRISTINE SARKES SASSEVILLE
Early in the play, I Love to Eat: A Love Story with Food, James Beard (Garry Geiken) declares to the audience, “Moderation. I’m against it!” This line captured to me the true essence of James Beard: America’s original foodie, TV’s first cooking show host, confidante of Julia Child and author of over 20 cookbooks. An award bearing his name pays tribute to America’s food traditions and honors yearly the best regional and national chefs. Minneapolis foodies addicted to James Beard award-winner Lynne Rossetto Kasper and “The Splendid Table” will find a kindred spirit in James Beard as written by James Still, whose love of fresh ingredients, passion and joy in the art of cooking and general joie de vivre won my heart.
Playwright Still has created a fascinating one-man show and portrait of a man, a year before his death in 1984, whose life belied moderation in every way: from his distinctive laugh to his insistence that food was not “cuisine” and its preparation should always be fun. Still and Geiken present Beard as a man who lived life and loved to the fullest, even if he suffered for his many unrequited passions. Beard’s life and career are filled with false starts: early attempts to become an opera singer failed, his cooking show on television was hampered by cheesy sponsor gimmicks and was cancelled, an epic love story never materialized and, finally, his body became overburdened by his love of food. Geiken carries the show admirably with obvious affection for his character. He captures Beard’s larger-than-life persona and idiosyncrasies with small movements and expressions while avoiding creating a caricature. The stream of consciousness monologue would be improved with some editing and better pacing, particularly when Beard is reminiscing about his TV show sponsor and childhood influences. An audience participation segment was clever but appeared to confuse the chosen members, who didn’t seem to know if they were handed props or real food to taste.
The 80s kitchen set design (Dean Holzman) and the choice of opera classics (Michael Keck) represented well Beard’s hospitality and over-the-top personality. Illusion Theater has planned a series of cool special events focused on food, including an evening with well-known local chefs, like Seth Bixby Daugherty and food writer Sue Zelickson. For more details, visit their website at www.illusiontheater.org.
I LOVE TO EAT: A Love Story With Food by James Still, directed by Michael Robins, starring Garry Geiken. April 26-May 18, 2013, Illusion Theater at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, 8th Floor, 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. April 26-May 18, 2013. Tickets $15-28 reserved by calling the box office 612-339-4944 or www.illusiontheater.org.