I Love to Eat: Cooking with James Beard to Premiere on September 27JBF Editors
September 26, 2011
When playwright James Still began considering James Beard as the subject for his next one-man script, he knew immediately that he had found a rich and charismatic figure who could command the stage. “With a solo play, you have to ask yourself the basic question: do I want to spend uninterrupted time with this one character? I answered that with a resounding ‘yes’ when it came to all things Beard.” We can’t say we’re surprised. After all, Beard, who filled kitchens and dining rooms with his jolly presence and sonorous speech, was tapped by NBC in 1946 to tape the country’s first cooking show, I Love to Eat. Still’s new play, which premieres at the Indiana Repertory Theatre on Tuesday night and stars actor Robert Neal, borrows its title from the American chef’s pioneering program. “I’ve been moved by his sense of being a performer and his desire to be famous,” says Still. “This led me to write what I think is one of the best entrances for a character in a play that I’ve ever seen.”
While the show is propelled by Beard outsized personality, his endearing, uncompromising, and moving quirks color it in. Still, who visited our offices and the James Beard House to study Beard’s personal letters and conduct other research, says examining Beard’s life was like peeling away the layers of an onion. “I love that he had an electric kitchen, that he hated cooking with gas. I love that in a creative pinch he could cook up something delicious with a clothes iron. But I was also surprised by his openness to strangers, taking phone calls from people in culinary distress and talking them through a crisis. He was many things to many people—and that was probably both his gift and his mystery.”
Still, who is a vegetarian, also got to know Beard through cooking some of his recipes. “His recipe for funghi risotto is delicious!” he says. Onion ring sandwiches, one of Beard’s signature canapés, even make a cameo in the play. On stage, in a signature show of hospitality, James Beard will serve them to a couple of lucky audience members.
I Love to Eat will run through October 22 at Indiana Repertory Theatre, located at 140 West Washington Street. For more information, visit the play’s official page here.
UPDATE: read more about I Love to Eat at indystar.com.