Whether one attends a "Food for Thought" luncheon or a cocktail hour gathering, the enthusiasm of patrons who have learned what a good, intellectual time they can have is apparent. The staged readings, held at the prestigious National Arts Club, enable devotees of the programs to enjoy a roster of top stars interpreting famous or lesser known texts, in addition to having lunch, or at the early evening sessions, drinks and cheese. The creative force behind "Food For Thought," in its tenth season as it goes into summer sessions, is Founding Artistic Director Susan Charlotte.
Watching Charlotte in action is interesting in itself. She obviously knows her group, and is deft in making introductions, giving information, and above all, fielding questions or remarks in the discussion that follows each presentation. She respects audience members, no matter how frivolous a comment may be, and guides the discussion toward a solid result in keeping with the stature of the impressive array of noted guests.
At a luncheon I sampled (buffets are provided by The National Arts Club) Kathleen Turner and Keir Dullea collaborated in reading a rare play by Tennessee Williams dating to 1966. It was titled "I Can't Imagine Tomorrow." Turner and Dullea, with very little rehearsal time, brought the piece to life remarkably. The work is yet another Williams exploration of a relationship, and the two performers did justice to the poetic nuances of the master craftsman. The direction was by John Going. (Food for thought has two resident directors: Melvin Bernhardt and Austin Pendleton.)
When I sampled an early evening program, the attraction was the play "Still Life" by Noël Coward, with Hayley Mills as the star, supported by a cast that included Barbara eda-Young, Rebekkah Ross, Quin Gresham, Joe Ragno, Firdous Bamji, Michael Citriniti and Lynn Cohen. It was specially rewarding to see Mills, whose British background helped to get the flavor of the Coward work, set in a British railway station. The drama, directed by Austin Pendleton and involving a fleeting romance, was clearly a reminder of the film "Brief Encounter."
Those who subscribe to "Food for Thought" get the opportunity to see the participating stars in an intimate setting. Also featured in the past season, for example, were Elaine Stritch, Rosie Perez, Judd Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, John Shea, Mary Alice, Patricia Neal and Campbell Scott. Writers whose works were represented included Mel Brooks, Agatha Christie, W. C. Fields, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Stoppard and Oscar Wilde. In addition, Charlotte, who is also a writer, included one of her plays.
Six sessions were scheduled to provide intellectual stimulation in June.
Information about enrolling in "Food for Thought," including subscription prices, can be obtained at 212-362-2560 or by clicking on FoodForThoughtProductions.com on the internet. Sessions are at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South (on 20th Street), New York City.