Our Julia story

I’m a foodie. Rivaled only by the theater, the kitchen is my chosen sanctuary and laboratory, and I gluttonously imbibe all things epicurean—magazines, websites, cookbooks, gadgetry, you name it. Like many of you who might share this passion—swept up by the current Food Network, farm-to-table, slow food, organic-frenzied, Top Chef, gastronomic universe—it all started long ago through a link to Julia Child.

We all have our own Julia story. Mine begins as a teenager in suburban Detroit, kept home from school for a month with pneumonia and little to do. I discovered Julia on PBS television and watching her completely blew my mind, shattering my previous food experiences in an Irish-Catholic-salt-is-an-exotic-spice-to-use-sparingly upbringing. (Sorry, Mom!) Julia introduced me to an altogether new world of fearlessness, exploration, experimentation, willingness to make mistakes and eagerness to taste something foreign to my palate or perception. My love for the kitchen was ignited, like many of you, by Julia showing me I could do it.

Joel Gross (from left) as Gilles, Karen Janes Woditsch as Julia Child and Craig Spidle as Paul Child in “To Master the Art.”

So it is with added exuberance and personal investment that I look ahead to tomorrow’s opening night of To Master the Art—a project commissioned and developed by TimeLine that has been in the works for more than four years, even before the recent resurgence of Julia-mania. While To Master the Art proudly marks our seventh world premiere production, this is the first time a play commissioned by TimeLine has received a full production.

In 2006 TimeLine’s Company members gathered for our annual summer retreat in a modest cottage in Michigan, to assess recent work and daydream about where we wanted to go next. During that invigorating weekend my colleague Juliet Hart discussed a Julia Child biography she had just read and her astonishment at Julia’s odyssey with her beloved husband, Paul. Their story was one that should be a play, Juliet professed, and the idea captured our imaginations, prompting further research and a shared fascination among our Company to bring this to TimeLine’s stage.

I turned to two gentlemen who not only were distinguished theater artists we greatly admired but also two of the most passionate culinary enthusiasts I knew (from many a shared meal together)—Bill Brown and Doug Frew. As suspected, they already had a wealth of information about Julia and Paul’s life and were eager to dig even further to craft To Master the Art.

Craig Spidle and Karen Janes Woditsch bring the romance of Julia and Paul Child to life in “To Master the Art.”

Recognizing this potentially epic love story needed focus to be compelling theater, Bill and Doug concentrated on a crossroads in Julia and Paul’s life, in France during the 1950s. As Americans abroad, they were ambassadors for a country that, back home, was brimming with fear and anxiety. Even as they grappled with what it meant to be an American, they were tasked with introducing France to the best America had to offer.

Here was Julia, in mid-life, redefining who she was and shattering the perceived role of the American housewife. Here was Paul, toiling in the bureaucracy of the State Department and having to constantly defend his actions and aspirations. Two frustrated artists charting very different courses, struggling to master the arts of marriage, communication, cooking and personal fulfillment.

They discovered how to work as a team. Paul recognized that it was Julia’s time to blossom, and, as her partner, he nurtured her evolution. She, in turn, inspired a nation to embrace the possibilities of the kitchen—gathering together to craft a meal, raise a glass or two, use food as a tool for celebration and share in the pleasures of culinary tradition.

As we approach the holidays, perhaps there is no better time to pay tribute to the impact Julia has had on our lives. Not only did she revolutionize the world of food and teach so many how to live life more fully, with fearlessness and grace, but she continually reminded us of the sacredness of the kitchen table. As we gather around it, with different points of view and conflicts that may be personal, familial, cultural or political, it is at the table that we can find communion. We have Julia (and Paul) to thank for reminding us of that, as well as inspiring legions to take up her torch.

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  1. HC

    Will the run be extended? It seems to have nearly sold out already!

  2. REVIEW: To Master the Art (Timeline Theatre) « Chicago Theater Blog

    […] William Brown and Doug Frew Directed by William Brown TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map) Through Dec. 19   […]

  3. TimeLine Theatre

    Hi HC – so sorry just responding! Unfortunately the run is not able to be extended. We encourage all those looking for tickets to keep trying by calling the box office in case tickets are released by our subscribers. Or there’s always the wait list – starts one hour before the performance in-person. If there are last-minute cancellations or no-shows we will do our best to get folks in to see this amazing show.

  4. Dorothy Keating

    The show was terrific – each performance was perfect! Bon Appetit, indeed!!

  5. Dorothy Keating

    The show was terrific! Each performance was perfect – Bon Appetit, indeed!