Le Gourmand or Gluttony!
nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 15, 2011
Le Gourmand or Gluttony! is a chamber musical performed by six talented young actor-singers, Elliot Eustis, Jonas Goslow, Katie Hartman, Katie Melby, Thomas Picasso and Robin Rothman, all of whom are also excellent physical performers. The show is presented in a Brechtian style, with composer/pianist Andrew Lynch serving as scene title announcer from his position at the electronic keyboard. It is a group effort, hence the subtitle, “A Company Devised Musical,” where the company takes on many characters, sings in harmony, dances, cavorts and creates the story with joyous subterfuge.
The story concerns the life of Grimod de la Reyniere, a French theatre critic turned food critic, who lived from the time of the Bourbon Kings through the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror, and well beyond the Napoleonic Era. An eccentric, wealthy epicurean, with celebrated malformed hands reputed to be like lobster claws, he is famous for his eight-volume treatise on food and restaurants called L’Almanach des Gourmands. He was also famous for his exquisite palette, his insatiable appetite, and his outlandish banquets: an original French foodie extraordinaire.
Under the peripatetic choreographic direction of Jason Bohon and with nice turn-of-the-18th-century costumes by Stephanie Alexander, the tale of de la Reyniere (played by a female company member in overstuffed splendor) is presented as a ten course “meal,” each course being a fanciful portion of de la Reyniere’s life. These “courses” include his courtship and eventual marriage with the actress Adelle, his encounters with both Napoleon and Josephine, his acquaintance with Dr. Joseph Guillotin (and that eponymous revolutionary execution contraption) and much more.
The production is reminiscent of the kinds of collaborative efforts one finds in college or university; not surprising when one reads that the company, 3sticks, is a collective founded by former classmates, looking to continue the sort of work they had done in school. Accordingly, perhaps, there is a youthful exuberance with the material that is fun to watch.
The main thing I had trouble with, however, was finding a way into the story to make me care about it. All the information regarding de la Reyniere written above was found by me after viewing the show—there was nothing in the program or in the text of the piece (credited to Nick Ryan) to set any sort of dramaturgical foundation. We are not even told that de la Reyniere was an actual historical figure. If one deals with the show purely, then, on its face, it is an entertaining but confusing hour. I couldn’t help wondering why on earth I was seeing it all and why it was important for the company to tell the story. Did they have a strong need to tell us that gluttony, one of the seven sins, is bad? Or, more likely, had they found an interesting story of a real-life proto-Michelin, someone whose biography was absurdly ironic, being a gastronome in a time of rebellion against the excesses of the Bourbon Kings, and one who somehow survived the Reign of Terror!
I enjoyed this show, despite these reservations: the singing in particular is excellent, with interesting, well-executed harmonies. And, now that you have read this review, you have the background to the piece that I lacked. So, go, enjoy!