“The Art of Dining” combines food, comedy for lively, relatable performance

The Geneseo department of theater and dance studies presented Tina Howe’s “The Art of Dining” from Nov. 11–Sunday Nov. 15. Directed by professor of theater Randy Kaplan, the play placed an emphasis on the quality and love for food that we all have while the student actors played distinct and versatile characters. Freshman Courtney King played Ellen, co-owner of The Golden Carousel restaurant. Junior Joshua Shabshis played Cal, Ellen’s husband and other co-owner of the eatery. Together, the married couple tries to have a perfect night of dining in their restaurant.

Other characters jump into the play as customers of the fine establishment. Sophomore Kimberly Romano played the wealthy and hungry Hannah Galt who is married to Paul Gaut—played by freshman Richard Taylor James.

One of the most comedic entrances of a customer came from writer Elizabeth Barrow Colt—played by sophomore Rachel Britton—who entered shyly and awkwardly as she clutched a bag bigger than her. Editor and happy eater David Osslow—played by sophomore Brendan Mahoney—later accompanied Colt, acting as a foil to her character since he loved food while she did not.

The other three characters were eccentric friends who had a mixed taste for food. Junior Mallika Shah played Herrick Simmons—a good eater. Nessa Vox—played by sophomore Jenna Lawson—was a neurotic eater and Tony Stassio—played by junior Channing Porter—was a miserable one.

The married co-owners of the restaurant spend the night trying to please this mixed group of customers while also trying to make enough money to keep their business running. While Cal focuses more on the business aspect of the restaurant, Ellen focuses on the harmony of the food she prepares and customer satisfaction. This becomes a central conflict within the play; Cal ends up accidentally eating a lot of her food and causes chaos for his wife.

The conflict between couples was a distinct thematic element in the play. Both Cal and Ellen—along with Hannah and Paul—argued and had differing opinions and motivations. At the end, however, they all were able to work it out and come together for a bigger purpose.

Howe’s play premiered off-Broadway in 1979. Sometimes, as Kaplan commented, the play would use real food to prepare and eat on stage. In her production, Kaplan decided that her actors would mime the presence of food instead. “The whole point of our production is not the food; it’s what we make of the food in our heads,” she said.

The set was intricately designed and contained a myriad of specific props such as silverware, bowls, trays and other kitchen utensils. Kaplan noted how many of the props came from restaurant supply warehouses. According to Kaplan, the process of finding the most authentic props was so complicated that it took years to finally get the right idea for the concept.

She emphasized that she wanted to direct this play for years and that it was incredibly rewarding to see the project come to fruition. “I have loved this play ever since I first read it 30 years ago,” Kapplan said. “I really like what it says about food and eating and men and women and cooking, and how we interact with food and how we treat each other and ourselves with food. That’s really what the play is about and it was something that I really wanted to explore.”

The student actors did a great job epitomizing each individual character through the pronunciation of their lines along with the physical way in which they acted. Britton’s display of her character was notable as she acted incredibly awkward and out of place throughout the majority of the play.

“The Art of Dining” featured a great display of characters. The actors’ dimensionality in portraying the characters was entertaining to watch as they brought the characters to life.