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Thursday, October 28, 2021

A vibrant symphony of food, company and laughter

These are the experiences we experience, the memories we create. The small defining moments we seek that make our day that much brighter. It is the meeting point of where the velvety texture of butter hits the tip of our tongue and dissipates over thousands of taste buds, or the sound of Frank Sinatra gliding across the air waves and breaking the chaotic bustling of aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers embracing for the first time in years.

The Matter of Taste, the theatre and dance department’s final Granada Artist-in-Residence performance this year, is a collection of stories which capture the essence of what the human experience is all about. It’s a place where we sit, talk, listen, laugh, shed tears and most importantly-eat.

As a Granada Artist-in-Residence and director from the U.K., Anna Fenemore brought a raw and refreshing element to the department of theatre and dance. Utilizing food as a central theme, Fenemore gathered an ensemble of vibrant faces and personalities.

Although creating an unscripted feel in a scripted production is not an easy task, Fenemore and her cast perfected it. The audience can’t help but fall in love with the cast because the characters are so relatable. When performer Heebeom Choe set the first scene with her bubbly personality and shy demeanor, it’s as though it was her first time on stage.

What have you forgotten? When did you last cry? Who do you miss? These are the types of questions Fenemore challenged the audience with. As each performer told their stories about recipes which have engrained a particular memory from their past, the audience was taken on an intimate journey about life, lovers, family, death and self-realization.

One of the most touching scenes took place with performer Avila Reese, who broke down in tears while talking about her recipe for “Heartbreak Sad Blue Soup.” Prior to finding love, Reese recalled making this artichoke-chicken soup alone in the kitchen – sad and desolate. With a live guitarist playing an acoustic tune in the background and the lights dimmed low, Reese uttered joyful words such as “He taught me to never humiliate garlic in hot oil ever again.”

But aside from the tears, The Matter of Taste captured the spirit and joyful nature of friends and laughter. During a scene where performer Sarah Birdsall asks Alejandro Torres and Jason Masino a series of questions, the seemingly unrehearsed and playful nature of Fenemore’s directing is highlighted.

Birdsall asked: “What meal would you cook me tomorrow morning?” Masino quickly replied: “Whatever I cooked for you last night.” Judging by the reaction from the cast members themselves, it is as though the one-liner response was an impulsive and unscripted response. With that, the cast members, audience and Fenemore (who sat in the audience watching the performance) laughed hysterically in unison.

Taking inspiration from various movies and shows, Fenemore inserted parodies and comical re-enactments of films and TV shows about food. Wearing a bra stuffed with onions, Daniel Jordon performed a memorable spoof from the movie Julie and Julia where Julie is on the floor sobbing about wrecking dinner. Another notable parody included Sarah Birdsall’ performance of Audrey Hepburn’s cooking scene – paired with Rage Against the Machine, of course.

There is no fourth wall in this production. Fenemore takes the barrier between the spectator and performer tears it down. At times, the audience forgets that they are watching a performance but instead, they are just another member of an unforgettable dinner party. The performers had a great time and it clearly translated to the audience. The spirit of food, fun, and laughter filled the air in every direction of Wyatt Theatre.

The unconventionality of the performance space perfectly suited the uniqueness and playfulness of the production. Like the sweet smell of onions sautéing on the stovetop, or sound of the audience’s uncontrollable laughter or sight of such a colorful and wonderfully vibrant cast, the senses triggered by The Matter of Taste combined to create an impressionable memory of its own. There won’t be another production quite like this for some time to come.

UYEN CAO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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