The Art of Dining

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The Art Of Dining, a play written by Tina Howe in 1979, showcases the bizarre relationships three groups of characters have with food. The play is set during November in a New Jersey restaurant, newly opened by couple Ellen and Cal, who have everything riding on each night's cash flow. Both cooking and eating are included in the play which takes place on a stage.

Characters[edit]

  • Neurotic short story writer: Elizabeth Barrow Colt
  • Publisher: David Osslow
  • Couple: Hannah and Paul Galt
  • Friends: Herrick Simmons, Nessa Vox and Tony Stassio
  • Restaurant owners: Ellen and Cal

Themes[edit]

The play explores themes which question the nature of dining; the "art" of dining, as constructed by traditions of etiquette and social pressures and expectations surrounding the idea that one has to entertain during mealtimes, eat and maneuver utensils with precision, clarity, sophistication and grace; all to impress whoever may be (and usually is) watching. Dining, generally speaking, is considered to be an event which brings people, both friends and family, together. It is thought of as a social time when events of the day are discussed; though often, it is a time when darker things surface (such as money problems). However, as shown in Tina Howe's play, the more gullible and weak-minded people have greater potential to be affected by these pressures and expectations. Each of the characters in the play have been affected and, in a variety of ways, live with problems ranging from eating and body image disorders to personality and mental disorders.

However, none of the characters have been more affected than Elizabeth Barrow Colt. Elizabeth, after suffering childhood traumas of her mother's depression and attempts at suicide (beginning, progressing and ending with food and cooking) has left her with neurosis (a mild personality disorder in which obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive acts and feelings of anxiety are displayed) and an irrational fear of food. Already, Elizabeth had been a sensitive child, with issues surrounding mealtimes. Pressures to entertain during dinner evidently took the focus away from the food, fortunately, as her parent's eating habits turned her stomach. Constantly spitting food into her napkin, Elizabeth lived in an uncomfortable and stressful environment. However, this proves merely to be the root of Elizabeth's condition. It is assumed that Elizabeth is normal in every other aspect of her life. However, throughout the course of the play, it becomes clear that she does not cope well in social situations, especially those involving food and dining. Her issues are highlighted in a number of speeches, loudly and intensely given, exposing the disturbing and personal events of her past. The audience sees how this has left an individual hunger for normality, balance, comfort, the ability to eat in peace, and in doing so, enjoy food with great thoughts.

Sources[edit]

"The Actor's Book Of Contemporary Stage Monologues" Edited by Nina Shengold 1987, USA