Opera music booms and steam spills out from beneath the giant onstage refrigerator as I Love to Eat
begins. As the song builds and steam obscures the floor, James Beard (Rob Nagle) strides out of the fridge. Dressed in striped silk pajamas, he chuckles as an unremitting cascade of rose petals falls from above. “Moderation!” he roars. “I’m against it!” Yet for such a grandiose proclamation, I Love to Eat
, directed by Jessica Kubzansky, feels less like a rich meal than a scattered sampler of tasty but underwhelming tidbits. James Still’s chatty script jumps between informal confessional and re-enactments of Beard’s 1940s cooking show, with the celebrated chef recounting culinary and childhood reminiscences, preparing mayonnaise and chopping parsley for canapes and, in some brief spots, revealing and then brushing off stories of loneliness and unrequited love. Though peppered with a few lovely moments—the Portland-born Beard recalls digging for razor clams in Gearhart, for example—this Portland Center Stage production neither digs enough into Beard’s underlying melancholy nor sufficiently plays up his convivial wit. Given the bony and episodic script, Nagle’s performance mostly impresses, and he endears himself to the audience with knowing glances and dramatic flourishes of the arm. But many of the lines are so slick or painstakingly choreographed they fail to elicit more than a polite giggle, and nothing can save Nagle in the incongruous, kiddie scenes with a bovine hand puppet. At one point, Beard fields a call from a frazzled home cook in Kansas. He encourages her to pour the disaster down the sink. “That’s the way it is in the kitchen,” he says. “Sometimes it all goes boom.” But that’s the problem with Still’s unfocused script—though it carries on at a gentle simmer, it never makes much of a bang.
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