While it may sometimes look easy, even those born with innate acting talent need to learn the craft. Acting teachers play a critical part in the development of successful actors and Los Angeles is a town filled to the brim with actors and the schools that shape them.
One such school is the Gloria Gifford Conservatory, currently presenting The Art of Dining, a 1979 play by Tina Howe that involves real-time cooking and eating. As presented in this well-decorated space, it’s a feast for all the senses. It’s also a peek behind the acting school curtain.
The play opens with a young couple – she a chef, he front-of-the-house – frantically preparing for the night’s dinner service. They’ve opened a restaurant in their home and it’s putting a strain on their marriage, especially since hubby (Keith Walker) keeps eating the delicious food. The wife (Kelly Musselewhite) must juggle his incompetence with her high standards.
As the guests begin to arrive, the script requires carefully choreographed slapstick of crossed wires and crosstalk, plus the occasional pratfall and near-constant eating. It’s raucous, over-the-top fun and a challenging piece for any cast.
A conservatory production is a showcase, in this case for nine young actors who clearly love what they do, and for the teacher/director responsible for their training. Several performers are pros already, while others need a little more cooking time. Especially notable are Lucy Walsh, playing an elegant and appreciative diner, Haile D’Alan as a potential adulterer, a wild and crazy Gloria Alvizar, and Musselewhite, the chef.
The show is double-cast so more students have the opportunity to perform.
There’s a brief intermission where snacks are available, and a full dinner is served afterwards by the conservatory’s gracious and attractive students.
If you’ve ever had your hair cut at a beauty school or dined at a culinary academy, the acting school play will feel familiar. The students give it their all and you’re aware of a guiding hand just off to the side. It’s as much a tightrope walk as a performance, but fun to see the sausage made. (Sausage isn’t actually on the menu.)
Gifford is a kind of house mother to her young charges. She specializes not only in acting but adulting, teaching her students skills well beyond those they’ll use onstage or in front of a camera. She assigned a student to walk two women to their car post-show one recent Sunday evening, and her students greet, serve food, and even clear plates with friendly professionalism. It’s acting with a side of finishing school and it’s definitely worth experiencing.
The Art of Dining plays Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., with a revolving cast, through Dec. 8, 2019 at the Gloria Gifford Conservatory, 6502 Santa Monica Blvd., at Wilcox. Tickets are $30, $50 for dinner and drinks after the show. For tickets, click here or call (800) 838-3006.