Chicago Theater Review: TO MASTER THE ART (Broadway Playhouse)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 18, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

BON APPETIT!

A welcome return engagement (which is now part of the prestigious Broadway in Chicago subscription lineup), TimeLine Theatre Company’s revival of its 2010 original work To Master the Art remains, even in a much less intimate space and with a higher ticket price, a delicious passion play. As delightfully developed by authors William Brown and Doug Frew, the ardor here, of course, begins and ends with Julia Child’s devotion to all things French, especially the cuisine she literally uncovers in a post-war Paris and will inevitably export to a grateful America.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of TimeLine's To Master the Art at Broadway Playhouse in Chicago.

Almost equal to this culinary credo is Julia’s love for her foreign-service husband Paul, who, even though stationed in Paris, becomes a target in the McCarthy witch-hunt, a “Red scare” that criminally and doggedly confused patriots with Communists at the drop of a subpoena.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of TimeLine's To Master the Art at Broadway Playhouse in Chicago.

It’s a cook’s tour full of wonder and revelation as Brown and Frew show us gangly, insecure Julia’s coming of chef as she studies, with a trio of bumptious G.I.s intent on improving their hometown grub, at the Cordon Bleu, impressing perfectionist M. Bugnard, master of the kitchen. This seeming snob is the keeper of the keys to gustatory heaven, but he’s nonetheless open to surprise when an American matches him in literal good taste. Unstoppably, a deeply driven Julia connects with two French women who share her dream and their recipes: The result is the culture-melding classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the rest is history and “Bon Appetit!”

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of TimeLine's To Master the Art at Broadway Playhouse in Chicago.

The script, a gem of graceful, natural and witty dialogue, effortlessly moves from the more light-hearted confectionary clues about scrambled eggs and crème brûlée to the darker currents of political pogroms and brainless nationalism.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of TimeLine's To Master the Art at Broadway Playhouse in Chicago.

Both sides of the same story are perfectly balanced by co-author Brown’s exquisite and spirited direction. Reassembling the superb 11-member cast of this Chicago original with a few Equity additions, Brown, who has equally mastered the art of ensemble perfection, spins this charmer with a love of the actors as much as the characters. Complete with a gawky grace and a piercing falsetto that fits Julia like a glove, Karen Janes Woditch brings unforced intensity to a woman whose every move looked awkward but every word was right. Craig Spidle, as her much-tested helpmate, opens up this tale of self-making Americans in Paris to challenge American “exceptionalism” in an equally meritorious cause.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of TimeLine's To Master the Art at Broadway Playhouse in Chicago.

Superb support comes from Terry Hamilton as Julia’s disapproving dad and Parisian mentor, Heidi Kettenring as an SAS agent falsely accused of treason, Janet Ulrich Brooks as a French snob and American spitfire, and Jeannie Affelder as Julia’s invaluable collaborator. Keith Pitts’ flexible kitchen and dining room sets could not be more appetizing or welcoming, Rachel Anne Healy’s costumes set the table perfectly, and Charles Cooper’s lighting is entirely worthy of “la ville des lumieres.”

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of TimeLine's To Master the Art at Broadway Playhouse in Chicago.

The play’s ingredients may not always blend like Julia’s French onion soup or famed cassoulet, but this tasty time trip makes us “present at the creation” of a food icon and the loving husband who aided and abetted her savory saga. Four courses and four stars!

photos by Giorgio Ventola

To Master the Art
TimeLine Theatre at the Broadway Playhouse
Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
presented by The Chicago Commercial Collective for Broadway in Chicago
scheduled to end on October 20, 2013
for tickets, call (800) 775-2000 or visit http://www.BroadwayInChicago.com

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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