By William Brown and Doug Frew
Directed by William Brown
At TimeLine Theatre, Chicago
World premiere of Julie and Paul Child’s story cookies with charm
“Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
— Julia Child
The first full production commissioned by TimeLine Theatre, To Master the Art by William Brown and Doug Frew is a pure delight. It blends the history of post war America and France with the adventures of self discovery of Julia Child and her husband Paul from 1948-1961 when they lived in Paris. Paul is a information officer with the US government, Julia is looking for a purpose as she is bored. Julia falls in love with French cuisine and vows to learn to cook. She takes a year long class at the Cordon Bleu under the tutelage of Chef Max Bugnard (Terry Hamilton).
We see how the love story of Julia and Paul is marinated by their tolerance and love of excellent cuisine. Julia and Paul, patriots both, meet in Ceylon during World War II as both worked in intelligence for the OSS (earlier version of the CIA). Julia came from a conservative California wealthy family; Paul from a poor East Coast family. As usual for educated folks in the 1930’s, Julia and Paul had friends that flirted with communism but none that actually became Russian operatives.
We see how during the madcap paranoid 1950’s Paul was summoned to Washington fro Paris to be grilled by the FBI. Meanwhile Julia was becoming an expert devotee of French cooking. The theatre is filled with the rich aromas of French cuisine as we see Julia’s relentless devotion to cooking perfection. Julia truly found her purpose in becoming both a master chef but also as a expert teacher of all thing concerning French cooking.
Her friend and mentor Simone Beck (Jeannie Affelder) becomes her partner in developing a detailed cookbook – Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We see how meticulous Child and Beck were in researching and writing the book. Julia is the American voice while Beck spoke to the French sensitivities. The result revolutionized American cooking and led to Child’s eventual PBS cooking TV show.
Brown and Frew have captures the essence of Julia and Paul as a love story; as a story self-discovery; and as a historically accurate slice of the times. Besides a cast of expert players featuring Terry Hamilton (Chef Max Bugnard and Julia’s father) with fine work from Jeannie Affelder (Simone beck and Madame Dorin), the show rests on who plays Julia and Paul.
I’m happy to report that Craig Spidle plays Paul with a sincere admiration and tolerance for Julia. Spidle, one of Chicago’s best actors, has a nice mixture of subtle humor and genuine love for Julia. Karen Janes Woditsch has the shrill voiced Julia down as she combines Julia’s self-deprecating humor and physical gawkiness with her dogged determination and passion for cooking. W0ditsch shows us Julia’s charm, wit and drive. The chemistry between Spidle and Woditsch is enchanting.
Brown and Frew have effectively blended history, character sketches of the famous into a love story that is both accurate and compelling. This love story about food will quench the most demanding theatrical appetite.
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, Chicago, IL, call 773-281-8463, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $28 – $38, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 1 hour, 45 minutes with intermission.