To Master the Art
An awkward, unusual outsider shows up in a Parisian kitchen and eventually transforms the culinary landscape: It may sound like Ratatouille, but it’s also a fair description of the iconic Julia Child. Brown and Frew’s new bioplay, which tracks Child (Woditsch) and her artist-diplomat husband Paul (Spidle) from their arrival in France to the debut of her seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, makes the case for her not only as a gustatory pioneer but also as a trailblazing feminist, making her way through the male-dominated world of Parisian cuisine. For those who dreamed of Julie and Julia without the Julie half, it’s a thorough study of a unique and inspiring career. TimeLine’s production is anchored by a remarkable peformance by Woditsch, who conveys Child’s affable tenacity without making her, as Meryl Streep did, an actor’s study in eccentricity.
To Master the Art does suffer from some of the pitfalls endemic to its genre. The Childs’ marriage seems fascinating from the glimpses we get, with the decade-older Paul both supportive of and a little threatened by his wife’s burgeoning career. But our attention is often diverted from it by the press of historical and biographical detail. A scene in which Paul’s summoned back to Washington for interrogation by McCarthyite goons feels both familiar and not entirely germane. The biggest drawback to the play, though, is what it leaves out: We only really see Julia at work in the kitchen once. That scene, in which chef Max Bugnard (Hamilton) corrects her scrambled eggs, is a spellbinder; it leaves us hungry for more.