By Philip Muehe
As I sat alone at my desk, endlessly scrolling blogs for new ways to promote the Commonweal during the pandemic, Producing Artistic Director Hal Cropp approached me and asked if I’d ever heard of a play called I Love To Eat by playwright James Still. I told him I hadn’t, but that I’d be happy to read it. I was immediately swept away by the humor, the heartbreak, and the honesty of the script and the man at its epicenter. “I like it!” I told him a few days later. “That would be a great show for someone to do!” Little did I know, the leadership of the Commonweal would produce the show, and I would be that someone to tackle the one-person comedy.
The art of solo performance is one that has always resonated with me, having worked on productions of The Amish Project, I Am My Own Wife, and Grounded. I adore stripping down elements that sometimes bog down a production. There is something infinitely refreshing to me about a single brave actor speaking to an audience. In a strange paradox, one person speaking all the words makes them all more important. That actor is the singular vessel for all of the action, the dialogue and characters. By the end of the performance you, as an audience member, have shared an intimate journey with that actor, and you both feel close to each other by curtain call.
To answer the question I hear most frequently: Yes – I really do have all those lines in my head! No earpiece for me. I broke down the script into two-or-three page sections, and then learned one section a night during the month of February (except weekends of course). By the start of rehearsals in March, I was familiar enough with the script to focus on the process with my incredibly patient Director Hal Cropp, and our extraordinary Production Stage Manager Rivka Kelly. While it was difficult at times, the end results of all of our hard work, along with the design team, were certainly worth it. I also don’t mind the shaved head as much as I thought I would (no bedhead!).
Sharing this story with our patrons has been a joy. James Beard was a fascinating man full of mirth, sorrow, and dreams. Like all of us, he struggled with the expectations he had for his life, and the realities of what it became. But his amazing openness, desire to live fully and truthfully, and eternal effort to make others smile are things I will carry with me. It has truly been an honor to portray his many sides on our stage, and give you all a small glimpse of who he was. As I say in the play, “Cheer up, dear. If all else fails, simply be amusing. You can get away with anything if you’re amusing.” Here’s to you James!