Take a director and a dramaturg with one big idea. Add five playwrights, 22 young actors, and at least one banjo to make “Oh, Gastronomy!,” this year’s witty and surprisingly touching Actors Theatre of Louisville apprentice showcase.
Conceived by apprentice/intern company associate director Amy Attaway (who also directed) and literary manager Sarah Lunnie (dramaturg) and written by Michael Golamco, Carson Kreitzer, Steve Moulds, Tanya Saracho and Matt Schatz, “Oh, Gastronomy!” will run through April 1 in the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
The five playwrights came to Louisville earlier in the year and spent a weekend visiting many area restaurants and markets with Attaway, Lunnie and the apprentice company. While “Oh, Gastronomy!” is not specifically set in Louisville, plenty of locavore touches from the area—bourbon, Derby Pie—found their way into the show. The writers created their short pieces for the anthology based on not only what they ate but who they met—local farmers and cooks, foodies and the apprentices themselves.
The sizable number of musically-talented apprentices led to six outstanding musical numbers penned by Matt Schatz. The songs range from the cute ethical-food dilemma ditty “How Do You Know?” (Erika Diehl) to “Tastes Like Home,” a heart-rending duet between a woman (Katie Medford) and her soldier partner (Alexander Kirby) about the dishes they love and will share again when he returns from deployment. Overall, the tone of the show is tipped in favor of comedy—the format of a series of short scenes encourages it, for one thing—but there were enough serious moments to give it suitable weight.
Stand-out dramatic moments include Golamco’s “Last Supper,” in which a brother (Doug Harris) cooks all of his terminally ill sister’s (the luminous Diehl) favorite dishes and loses it when she invites an old boyfriend (Alexander Kirby) to share the evening, and Kreitzer’s lyrical ode “Tomatoes,” delivered by a passionate young farmer (Nick Vannoy), a backyard tiller (Maggie Raymond) and an urban rooftop gardener (Kanomé Jones). Zoë Sophia Garcia and Chris Reid nailed “In the Line,” Saracho’s incisive examination of food and class, and Moulds’ “The Family Feast” series provided staunch emotional bookends for the show, offering a novel’s worth of family drama in two powerful scenes.
The apprentices spend the nine-month season working crew for the mainstage shows, appearing in the occasional small role and learning everything they can about the business before heading off to graduate school or the wilds of professional theater. The showcase is their opportunity to shine—not only for the Louisville audiences that have seen them wheel set pieces on and off stage all year, but for the directors, producers, playwrights and agents who visit the Humana Festival.
It’s thrilling to think that one of those young actors might be cast in featured roles even here at Actors Theatre in the near future, as last year’s apprentices Alex Hernandez (“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”) and Jordan Brodess (“Eat Your Heart Out”) were this season. It’s a “you saw them here first” kind of feeling, and all the apprentices are brimming with potential. In particular, Amir Wachterman as a demented waiter (Golamco’s “Ordering” series) and Trent Stork as a caretaking roommate (Saracho’s excellent “Code Fries”) stood out as budding comedic talents. Liz Malarkey (Schatz’s “CSA Battle,” Saracho’s “A Numbers Game”) and Marianna McClellan (Kreitzer’s “Fear and Loathing at the Food Truck” series) both have the presence and maturity to start commanding starring roles.
Overall, there were precious few weak spots—quite a feat for a show featuring 28 distinct shorts. Saracho’s salacious “Banana Girl” was funny but felt gratuitous and out-of-step with the tone of the show, which erred on the side of organic, wholesome, ethical (and delightful) fare.