Review: World Premiere of ‘Recipe’ by Michael Gene Sullivan at Central Works (***)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ***)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Recipe” plays at Central Works in The Berkeley City Club October 18 through November 23, 2014.)

Michael Gene Sullivan is resident playwright for the beloved San Francisco Mime Troupe, whose politically driven, unabashedly goofy agit-prop theatricals have been a Bay Area tradition since 1959 — an astonishing run of more than half a century, which has been recognized by a special Tony Award.

As expected, “Recipe” is solidly within this tradition. That means it is often silly, intentionally over-acted, simplistic in its politics, goofy in its jokes, sentimental in its nostalgia for 1970s counter culture, and full of heart and commitment. In short, fans of the Mime Troupe will not be disappointed. Others may find things a bit overwrought, but will laugh nonetheless.

The Morning Glory Baking Circle for Revolutionary Self Defense is a collective of eccentric old lady activists, nostalgic for the halcyon days of the 1970s counter culture (and before). Gifted bakers all, they have been raising money for revolutionary causes via bake sales for several years. Astonishingly, they have presently accumulated a surprising sum (over $60,000) which they have decided to send, illegally, to Cuba and this has caught the attention of a local radio journalist who comes to a meeting to conduct an interview. When it turns out that these old biddies might not be as irrelevant as they seem, all hell breaks loose in the Baking Circle.

Velina Brown, as Diane, the radio reporter, has a close encounter with revolutionary baked goods in "Recipe" at Central Works. Photo Credit: Jim Norrena.
Velina Brown, as Diane, the radio reporter, has a close encounter with revolutionary baked goods in “Recipe” at Central Works. Photo Credit: Jim Norrena.

Playwright Sullivan has created an ensemble of characters suitable for actresses of a certain age, and his troupe of experienced players have a lot of fun bringing them to life. The featured players include bay area stalwarts Phoebe Moyer and Lynne Soffer as an elderly lesbian couple, one of whom harbors a dangerous secret. These two experienced actresses know exactly when to play for a laugh, and when to get serious, making the most of every line. Jan Zvaifler seems to channel Diane Keaton at her most vague as the addled, hesitant, good hearted Janice. Tamar Cohn all but steals the show as the fiesty revolutionary Ruth whose long experience in the leftist trenches inform her belief that politics matter, even among little old ladies in a baking circle. Rounding out the cast is Velina Brown as Diane, the radio reporter with an unexpected secret identity. Brown is the co-artistic director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and her flamboyant expertise with this type of material is fully on display.

As one expects from Mr. Sullivan, there is a serious theme underlying the silliness and before the evening is complete, some real political issues are raised. What if, Mr. Sullivan asks, there really is a fascist conspiracy in the United States of America, one that is so paranoid and determined to control us that even little old ladies baking cookies are on the radar?

Gary Graves has directed “Recipe” with a firm hand, moving the story along, hitting the jokes, and turning serious as needed.

If this is your cup of tea (or slice of cobbler), you’ll have a good time.

For further information, click here.

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“Recipe”, a new play by Michael Gene Sullivan, produced by Central Works. Director: Gary Graves. Costumes: Tammy Berlin. Lights: Gary Graves. Sound: Gregory Scharpen. 

Lillian: Phoebe Moyer. Helen: Lynne Soffer. Janice: Jan Zvaifler. Diane: Velina Brown. Ruth: Tamar Cohn.

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