The Orange Park Community Theatre opened its final show of the 2010-2011 season with Tina Howe’s comedy “The Art of Dining.” It will run on weekends through June 25 at the OPCT playhouse at 2900 Moody Blvd in Orange Park.
If you are a fan of the Food Network and all those cooking shows on cable, you are going to love “The Art of Dining.” But even without gourmet tastes, you can relate to this show because you probably do go out to eat from time to time. This story is about three groupings of diners at a small gourmet restaurant in New Jersey, and the dramas that ensue at each table.
The setting is the Golden Carousel Restaurant, (designed by the teams of Tim and Sally DeBorde and Dave and Barbara Wells). The interior is charming and realistically detailed, with walls and tablecloths in hues of gold and artwork and figurines featuring carousel horses. It is a two-person family operation, with wife Ellen (Emily Shaw) as the chef, and her husband Cal (Jordan Schemmel) as the manager, waiter, busboy, and doorman. At the play opens, they are in the fourth week of business. Cal gave up a well-paid position as a lawyer and borrowed thousands of dollars to convert the living room in their home into a restaurant with four tables serving very expensive meals. Two problems become immediately evident. Cal loves to eat and uncontrollably consumes the ingredients needed for some of his wife’s recipes, like the grapes, the peaches, and the Hollandaise sauce. And Ellen is a bit high strung and wired and talks to the food, having a particularly interesting conversation with a large dead fish.
The first customers on this particular evening are a well-dressed middle-aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Galt (Fred Gatlin and Vicki Lowe). We are privy to an intimate conversation that indicates they substitute food for sex, as they ecstatically pursue the menu. And they toast different parts of their bodies with brandy, although not parts that would embarrass audience members.
At another table, three attractive women in their thirties gather to celebrate a birthday. They are played with spirit by Nicole Hatfield, Rhodie Jackson and Cynthia Baker. They delight in mispronouncing the names of all the French wines on the menu. They finally order three different entrees and when the food arrives they argue about who gets what and wind up doing a sort of Three Stooges routine of passing each plate between them and eating from each. This play then earns a PG-13 rating when one lady brings up a tale about a female flasher and they discuss in detail which body part she flashed.
The third table is occupied by Elizabeth (Sarah Pentecost), a shy young neurotic writer who is dining with a potential publisher, Mr. Osslow (Steven McMahon). Elizabeth can’t see without her glasses, which she refuses to wear, spills soup on the table and on herself and then proceeds to tell the unflappable publisher the tale of her psychological problems, which are related to childhood issues with food and her parents.
There are a number of blackout scene changes, switching from table to table for the different conversations, and back to the kitchen where Ellen is cooking away. This was accomplished with some 36 light cues and the hard work of light technician Steve Cohn.
As previously stated, one of the stars of this show is the set, and certainly deserving of mention is Stage Manager Steve Lowe, and the properties and backstage crew, who cooked actual food that was served to the diners and eaten with gusto. Champion eater of the evening was at the women’s table, with Nichole Hatfield taking home the honors since she seemed to savor everything on her plate.
Now you are probably wondering how is this going to end. Well, it does of course, in a somewhat unusual way that we will let you discover for yourself.
Playwright Tina Howe has published a number of plays. In the North Florida area, her most successful play “Painting Churches” was done by the Alhambra Dinner Theatre as well as Players by the Sea a few seasons ago. Another of her plays, “Coastal Disturbances” was also produced locally some years ago.
Tim DeBorde makes his directing debut with “The Art of Dining.” He is no stranger to the world of theatre, especially musical theatre, and was Music Director for OPCT’s “Heartbeats” and Assistant Director of “Godspell.” He has appeared as a musical theatre performer with FSU, FSCJ, Tulane University, Cross and Sword in St. Augustine, and with the New Orleans Opera. Mr. Deborde did an excellent job with this challenging play, as did the cast who performed well in developing the offbeat characters.
Warning: eat well before you see this play, it will stimulate your appetite. For reserved seating, visit or call 276-2599.