Theater often can be life affirming in one way or another, and Recipe for Life is a project that ties theater to efforts to do good for various causes, with admission charges going partly to help the designated cause of a particular evening. An example was the presentation on February 14, 2010 by Cause Celébère/Part-Time Productions and Tina’s Wish in association with The New Group. The cause was research to find early warning testing to detect ovarian cancer, with the event and Tina’s Wish in memory of Tina Brozman, who died of the illness.
The force behind the concept is Susan Charlotte, best known for her popular Food For Thought series that presents stars of theater in programs featuring works of renowned authors, a series that has commanded a loyal following over the years.
There were four attractions on this particular evening, the foremost of which was a relatively unknown A. R. Gurney play, “The Love Course,” a clever work that teamed Maria Tucci as Professor Carroway and Harris Yulin as Professor Burgess, experts who have been jointly teaching a class on love at a university, a course examining classic literary works dealing with the subject of love. The professors have had a love-hate relationship themselves and explosive feelings erupt in what is meant to be their final class together.
Tucci is wonderful as the more romantic Professor Carroway, who flings sarcastic remarks at her colleague and becomes increasingly distraught. Professor Burgess is more reserved, but he becomes increasingly caught in Carroway’s web and Yulin does an impressive acting job creating and sustaining the character. Miriam Silverman is reservedly amusing as Sally, one of the students caught in the tempest, and Jake Robards is good as her boyfriend, who finds a visit to the class not at all what he expected. Gurney’s play bristles with wit and comedy while at the same time building to a life-affirming conclusion with respect to these two profs.
Frances Sternhagen was another attraction, entertainingly taking on the persona of Tallulah Bankhead in a piece titled “Tallulah Finds Her Kitchen” by Joseph Stein and Danny and Neil Simon. It is a hilarious take on Talullah trying to cook, a task presented as about as foreign to her as if she were visiting another planet. Her idea of scrambling an egg is to grasp one and shake it.
Cuisine was also a touchstone in “Menu by Jessie,” another one person performance-- Tandy Cronyn’s charmingly written (by her) recollection of her actor parents, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. It is a warm and lively reminiscence, which she delivered with eloquence, affection and humor. Her mother was an enthusiastic good cook and her father an enthuastic eater, as evidenced in her loving take on their lives.
Maria Tucci returned with Kathleen Chalfant in “The Hairdresser,” a play by Susan Charlotte. Chalfont played Patricia who has turned up for a haircut with a request to Tucci as the hairdresser that she try something different. But when it comes right down to suggestions, Patricia is reluctant to have anything new done. We eventually learn the secret that lurks behind her reticence. Directors for the evening included Christopher Hart and Antony Marsellis. At the Acorn Theatre, Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street.