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Village Theatre Guild’s latest, a show good enough to eat

Photo submitted by Steve Merkel

Photo submitted by Steve Merkel

Glen Ellyns Village Theatre Guild, a repurposed one-room schoolhouse on Park Blvd., provides an intimate setting where playgoers can get close to the action. In the theaters latest production, Over the River and through the Woods, director Carla Mutone hopes to give the audience something more a sensory experience with a show that smells as good as it looks.

The show tells the story of the Cristano and Gianelli families, a multi-generation group of Italian-Americans who get together every Sunday for dinner. And like many other Italian families, the best conversations revolve around the dinner table.

Food is the thread of Italian life,  said Mutone, who also works in the Chicago Tribune’s advertising department. You walk into an Italians house and you can always smell sauce or gravy cooking on the stove.

It is that rich smell of perfectly seasoned tomato sauce that Mutone plans to have permeating the theater and awakening the audiences senses so they feel like guests in the characters’ home.

When they walk in the theater I am hoping they will feel they have been invited for dinner, and they are a part of the conversation that is happening, she said. I want them to feel very welcome and warm.

Creating an enveloping atmosphere in a theater can be a tricky task. Usually when a show requires actors to eat on stage, food props are simple and sometimes only suggestive. To keep the show authentic, the actors are required to juggle their lines in between bites of homemade Italian dishes with all the trimmings.

The audience can see what the actors are eating, so it is really important to use real food and real portions, Mutone said.

And who is responsible for preparing the nightly bounty? The formidable task falls in the hands of prop mistress Becky Poole.

I have been making the sauce, the ravioli and breading and frying the chicken cutlets, Poole said. I also keep the food hot, so [the actors] can eat it without making faces because it is cold.

The theater doesnt have a full kitchen so Poole must run downstairs to the dressing room area and use the lone microwave to keep the food warm during rehearsals.

I must run up and down those stairs a hundred times a night, Poole said. For the show, Ill have a crock pot with the sauce simmering backstage so it will be a little easier.

In her 25 years working backstage, Poole has taken on the duty of props only a handful of times preferring to oversee the production as stage manager. She ranks this show as one of her most difficult theatrical endeavors. To stay on top of things, she does all the food shopping beforehand and all the dishwashing during intermission and then again after each performance. The actors are just grateful that Poole can cook.

It is really delicious food, said JoAnn Smith who plays Emma Cristano, one of the Italian grandmothers. I dont even need to eat dinner before I come here.

To help the actors prepare to work with so much food, Mutone introduced it early in the rehearsal process. Smith enjoys the unscripted rhythm of passing bread and dishes  every night. The only time she feels she needs to sync her chewing and talking is when she delivers a monologue.

“I have eight or nine lines together, so I make sure I dont have a big mouth of food, Smith said. Otherwise wherever the food happens to be when I say the lines, that is what I am going with.

The show runs May 21 to June 12. The theater is located at 3S020 Park Blvd, Glen Ellyn. For more information, call 630-469-8230 or go to villagetheatreguild.org.

By Elizabeth Vassolo | Triblocal.com reporter

 

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