Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Actress Linda Kennedy, as an artist, seems a tiny bit like the character she plays here. She's the one-woman star of Chef, in the black-box theater at the Kranzberg Arts Center, for Upstream Theater. And she always seems to know what to add to a character, to make it rise and breathe, and how to give it spice and texture as well. A few years back, in the same venue, she poured quiet, anguished love for her children into the role of Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. As a result, the iconic character became alarmingly real, and invulnerable to parody.
But all plays are about identity, and destiny, aren't they? And the very structure of theater resounds with personal fate: every show plays out the same way, night after night, in its pre-ordained manner. Playwright Sabrina Mahfouz (who writes, every two or three pages, with the brash beat of a street poet) first brings Chef onstage in a blood-stained white tunic. And in that instant, the character becomes a symbol of what she was destined to be all along: a woman of harsh background, making perfect meals for deeply imperfect women, all living behind bars.
Chef first toured fringe festivals in Scotland and Britain in 2014, scooping up multiple awards. Now, Swiss-born Marianne de Pury is Upstream's guest director, guiding Ms. Kennedy (and us) backwards through a world beyond the prison cell that is home to this culinary genius, in a one-woman, hour-and-twenty-minute show. The drama unspools the story of her angry, ex-Army father and a violent, drug-dealing boyfriend, who both figure into how she ended up in prison.
Chef thrashes around, almost never her own woman, and unable to see the way out of the trap of her lifeas the victim of oppressive men. She can't stop writing elegant new recipes, but is equally unable to gain mastery over her life, to consistently put her genius to use. And yet her gift gives her power, in a way that finally creates poetic justice in the world of the play, and in the literary structure of the story. Thanks to Ms. Kennedy, the brutality of dominating men (and the dying gasps of her father) becomes rivetingly real, when he draws her back into his life one last time.
Chef, through October 14, 2018, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand, St. Louis MO. For more information visit upstreamtheater.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association
** Denotes Equity Membership Candidate