By Lynn Venhaus
Linda Kennedy is a whirling dervish as the title character in “Chef,” pacing, pouncing, pouting and preening in a sparse jail cell.
She remains animated through the entire 80 minutes, keeping our attention as she talks of her complicated life. And when she discusses food, she practically swoons.
Through her customary skill, Kennedy creates vivid depictions of the scenario she weaves in Upstream Theater’s season opener.
What kind of journey did she have, from haute cuisine to prison cafeteria kitchen? Heartbreak, humor, and life experiences tumble out of this tiny woman.
Life isn’t so black-and-white, and Kennedy will lead us through her painful memories, but there is joy as well. She will recall people she loved, and those she didn’t. Those who betrayed, and those who let her down.
Defiant, she questions our attitudes about violence, love and convicted inmates, people not so different from us who serve time.
UK/Egyptian Writer Sabrina Mahfouz has crafted a play with the ingredients that director Marianne de Pury celebrates in the art form: “laughs, tears, curse words, beautiful language, silly giggles, weird sounds, spurts of anger, love, resentment, war, peace, unexpected and long-forgotten memories – and sometimes even a message to the world,” she writes in her director’s notes.
De Pury, who came to St. Louis from Europe to direct this U.S. premiere, makes sure Kennedy’s energy engages.
Kristin Cassidy has created a claustrophobic feeling in that small cell, while Tony Anselmo’s lighting design pinpoints the reality of the chef’s present situations.
Jim Blanton’s sound design provides the cacophony of a correctional center while Laura Hanson’s costume design jolts our complacency with a bloody chef’s white uniform coat.
Kennedy makes us think and feel, drawing us in as bystanders – it’s impossible not to be moved by this gripping material.
“Chef” is presented at Upstream Theater Friday through Sunday, Sept. 28-30, Oct. 5-7 and Oct. 12-14, at the Kranzberg Arts Center (Grand and Olive), with all shows at 8 p.m. except for the first two Sundays at 7 p.m. and the last Sunday at 2 p.m. For the box office hotline, call 314-669-6382.
Photo by ProPhotoStl.com