Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Plays with food at Theatre in the Square and Actor's Express

Posted By on Tue, Mar 18, 2008 at 5:43 PM

click to enlarge somethingwonderful1.jpg

Photo by Zak Topor

My combined review of Theatre in the Square’s The Belle of Amherst and Actor’s Express’ When Something Wonderful Ends will run next week. The two one-woman shows have a small detail in common that bears mentioning — both include sweets in a way that offers a audience participation.

On opening night of When Something Wonderful Ends, the audience was offered individually-wrapped Brach’s cinnamon hard candies while going into the theater. (I abstained, because sometimes I mistake that candy for Red Hots, so I’m gun-shy.) In the autobiographical play, Sherry Kramer (played by Vicki Ellis Gray, pictured) describes the candies as not only her favorite, but the favorite of her late mother, to whom the play pays tribute. Sharing the candy provided a way to evoke the woman’s memory through the audience’s taste buds.

Incidentally, Kramer sent a letter that director Freddie Ashley read in his curtain speech, which speaks amusingly to an important bit of theater etiquette:

“Please unwrap and enjoy the cinnamon candies now – or put them aside for after the show. Please do not unwrap them during the show, even if you do it painfully slowly, excruciatingly slowly, as if you were a deer in headlights who thinks that if he doesn’t move you can’t see him. Of course you can see him. He’s right there. It doesn’t matter how long he doesn’t move, he’s not going to disappear. It doesn’t matter how sloooowly you unwrap your candy. We can hear you. Thank you.”

The Belle of Amherst didn’t offer the entire audience an actual treat, but provided the means of preparing one later.

In the play, Emily Dickinson (Holly Stevenson) speaks to the audience like a good hostess addressing old friends. She serves her own special recipe of Black Cake (I think one or two lucky people in the front row got a taste). The program includes “Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake Recipe,” as follows:

2 pounds of flour

2 pounds of sugar

2 pounds of butter

19 eggs

5 pounds of raisins

1 ½ pounds of currants

1 ½ pounds of citron

½ pint of brandy

½ pint of molasses

2 nutmegs

5 teaspoons of cloves, mace and cinnamon

2 teaspoons of soda

1 ½ teaspoons of salt

“Just beat the butter and sugar together, add the 19 eggs, one at a time – now this is very important – without beating. Then, beat the mixture again, adding the brandy alternatively with the flour, soda, spices and salt that you’ve sifted together. Then the molasses. Now, take your five pounds of raisins and three pounds of currants and citron, and gently sprinkle all eight pounds – slowly now – as you stir. Bake it for three hours if you use cake pans. If you use a milk pan, as I do, you’d better leave it in the oven six or seven hours. Everybody loves it. I hope you will too.”

With 19 eggs, two pounds of butter and 5 pounds of raisins (not to mention a six hour baking time), Dickinson's Black Cake evokes a more rustic, less health-conscious cooking style of yesteryear, effectively placing us in her homestead in mid-19th century Massachusetts.

The fact that both one-woman plays involve food may say something about the traditional role of women as the cooks of the household. Or maybe Dickinson and Kramer each has a sweet tooth.

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