No matter how different and unique we as individuals claim to be, there are some uniformed, fundamental similarities we as humanity share. Rites of passage exist, no matter race, gender, creed or orientation. Some may call them “old hat” or “out of touch,” while others view them as history—what has and will hold groups together since the dawn of it all. Simply put, they are known traditions, traditions which shape us and our family units. Such an idea is the premise of TheatreNOW’s latest production, “Memories, Molasses and More.” It successfully keeps their tradition going strong by presenting fantastic, fun theatre with an outstanding meal to boot.
The play is an adaptation but not one in the normal sense; no, this play is adapted from a cookbook. Now, I knew cookbooks held a ton of helpful information, but the recipe for a plot to a play? That one was new to me. Based off the book of the same name, written by Peggy Price and edited by local writer extraordinaire Clyde Edgerton, along with Stephanie Trott and Deborah Brunson, the show itself was adapted for stage by Zach Hanner, with the production directed by Mike Thompson. The play doesn’t feature much of a through-line plot as one would think. Here the audience is sat down and welcomed into the kitchens of eight different people, all of whom deliver monologues about how their lives have been shaped by traditions of faith and food. Each of the three acts are broken up in portions of an ideal Sunday, with characters passing in and out of their old-timey kitchen, elated to see and interact with the audience.
The cast forms one tight-knit ensemble, each using energy of others to propel them forward and create a well-paced show. Made up of Kathy Enlow, Robyn Gantt, Penelope Grover, Lance Howell, Livity James, Sam Robinson, Chastity Scott and Bianca Shaw, each member brings their own joys, laughs, tears and memories to their “roles” to imbibe the play with a real slice-of-life vibe. Each monologue reflects the importance of family and food, and shapes how we age and who we become—spanning from passed-down tales of the best way to make biscuits and gravy, all the way to how modern generations take lessons of the past and reform them to carry on to the future. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes on an old recipe to get it just right.
The audience is taken through a typical Sunday as the characters prepare for church in the morning (Act 1), return home and begin to prepare meals for Sunday supper (Act 2), then sit down to enjoy the meal as a community (Act 3). It’s a well-staked structure that progresses to an ending wrapped up in a grand sense of hope. No matter the differences we believe divide us, a mutual shared experience will bring us back together always.
The play incorporates a medley of gospel songs within and between the monologues. The entire cast serves them perfectly—each having the voice of the angels they sing about. Music director Linda Carlisle Markas guides them all to and through one beautiful song after the next. Stand-outs include Bianca Shaw, Sam Robinson and Chastity Scott. Scott has a phenomenal voice that fills the theater and reaches the audience to their core.
The actors turn the set into a proper home with warmth. The set designed by Terry Collins is fantastic, as the entire stage merges two kitchens into one, and forms something of an ark of kitchen equipment. There are two of everything: refrigerators, stoves, sinks, and it is decked out in detail, from aged photos framed on the walls, to decorative knick-knacks on the counter. The homes seem like they’re well-lived in.
The show presents prop food so realistically delicious looking, it will make the audience’s mouths water. It perfectly builds the anticipation for the meal coming forth. There is a yellow cake just sitting on one large table (the only set dressing there is one of), and it looks so decadent my inner child wanted to rush the stage just to cut a slice. The props are all made by the play’s director as well, and it’s clear he put the same care in making them as he did in crafting the show.
Being based off of a cookbook makes it clear food is rather an important element to the story. Each character has one or two dishes that has delighted his or her taste buds—or has brought them great pride in creating themselves. Each recipe they recount is found within the cookbook, but a selected number of the dishes have found their way to the evening’s very menu.
TheatreNOW’s Chef Denise Gordon has outdone herself, in crafting a three-course meal that builds upon itself at each stage. It starts with candied turnip salad, paired with a healthy sized piece of broccoli-and-cheese cornbread. The firing gun is a brilliant way to kick off the meal, and the salad keeps it all light so the audience doesn’t fill up before the main course. The cornbread … oh, my! Readers, the cornbread! It had a perfectly crisp crust, with a warm and crumbly center held together by the cheese. I could have eaten an entire tray of it, without guilt or shame.
Moving on to the main courses of the evening, I was supplied with a sampler plate—portions from all three entrees were delectable. While the turkey lasagna was good, it was my least favorite of the three (a vegetarian option is available as well). The Parmesan-crusted pork chop was out of this world and cooked to perfection. It was so tender that, with my fork alone, I was able to cut it up to bits. Then came the seafood jambalaya—a sensation with rice and Louisiana veggies with mild Cajun spices, topped with shrimp, crab, andouille sausage and fried oysters. It’s all great. The dessert is ever-changing, depending on the night, but during my visit, the audience was treated to a cherry-topped cheesecake that sent my sweet tooth home happy. The meal was top-notch across the board, and offered something tasty for even the most picky of eaters. Believe me, I am one.
What the cast, crew and TheatreNOW! has done with “Memories, Molasses and More” is craft a fun night of theatre. It combines the idea of what good food can do for the human spirit and what actual good food can do for the human belly.