- Julie Curry
- Actor Robert Neal stars in 'I Love to Eat: Cooking with James Beard' at the IRT.
Indiana Repertory Theatre, directed by James Still, through October 22.
The last two shows of IRT's Going Solo festival remember two minor American celebrities who, though once well known, have given way to larger pop culture icons. In this world premiere, playwright James Still and actor Robert Neal give us James Beard, the first TV chef (1946) and author of 20-plus cookbooks. Perhaps the most important thing we learn in I Love to Eat, Beard tells us almost immediately: If you mess up dinner, toss it in the garbage, laugh heartily and find something better to eat. Before Julia, with her chemistry-set recipes, and Martha, with her fussy place settings, there was James, with an appetite for simple, local cuisine and recipes that read like American folktales.
James Still translates Beard's love of opera into an hour of operatic memoir: Beard's huge torso, his gossipy phone calls, and his unsatisfied desire for a grand love story to call his own. Neal gives us arias, manly giggles and, after too much scotch to drink, teary eyes. I resisted the fleeting moments of pity for Beard. After all, this was a man who lived past 80 after a life of sea air, friendship and buttering his bread thoroughly. Perhaps Beard's lack of moderation did not serve him always, but clearly the man loved to live.