‘I Love to Eat’ at Round House Theatre by David Friscic

Like a dinner with a good friend, Round House Theatre’s production of I Love to Eat is a savory and satisfying addition to their 2012-2013 theatre season.  Producing Artistic Director Ryan Rilette has chosen a refreshing and witty contrasting follow up to the more somber initial offering of the season Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. This one-man show about the flamboyant and eminent American cook, James Beard, moves swiftly under the direction of Leon Major and provides a tasty fusion of witty anecdotes, humorous asides, and sentimental reminiscing. Clocking in at a mere one hour and fifteen minutes, playwright James Still leaves us quite satisfied.

Nick Olcott as James Beard. Photo by Danisha Crosby.

As played so endearingly by Nick Olcott, the larger-than life flamboyance and exuberance of chef Beard shines through.  In a series of theatrical bits that seem to arise spontaneously from the very forthright and uncensored nature of Beard himself, the audience is led to feel that they are having an intimate encounter with “confirmed bachelor” Beard himself – sharing a hearty chat over a glass of wine and a savory meal. The bill of fare for this production is an accent on laughter with some rueful, self-depreciating, and sentimental reveries stirred in to round out the psychological portrait of this fascinating man.

Nick Olcott as James Beard. Photo by Danisha Crosby.

It would be a crime to give away the spectacular opening and closing of the show (almost reason enough to see this play!) so I will only say that Olcott does descend upon his kitchen clad in silk pajamas and ready to make mayonnaise, profess his adoration of the onion and rail against the words “cuisine” and “gourmet” (Beard preferred the term “American Cookery”). Flashbacks to Beard’s early television shows are interspersed throughout and are highlighted by the most disarming and effective theme music (complete with Elsie the Cow descending from the heavens!).

Composer/Sound Designer Matthew M. Nielson deserves kudos for the marvelous musical interludes including a hilarious Beard reverie of being transported listening to Stravinsky’s The Firebird while listening to two women chatting incessantly over their fried chicken recipes!

The very effective and intimate kitchen set by Misha Kachman lends itself well to the ergonomics of Round House’s stage space. A nice interactive touch is the assorted cafe tables for two spread around the sides of the stage for lucky members of the audience to sample the food

One-person shows are often in danger of being overly self-important and pretentious so it is refreshing to see a show that never takes itself too seriously.  Like a light souffle, this production  rises to the occasion to provide a very engaging introduction to this charismatic chef and cook. I Love to Eat is a delight!

I Love to Eat plays through November 4, 2012 at Round House Theatre – 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (240) 644-1100, or purchase them online.

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