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;The 1950s don't get much respect. If the decades of American culture had a high school reunion, I'd imagine the varsity letterman 1940s dancing with the prom queen 1980s, while the '60s and '70s shared a smoke under the bleachers and the '90s bragged about their stock portfolio. All the while, the 1950s would hover in the corner of the gym with a glass of punch. But the '50s were more than the quaintly unhip province of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver; for in the fertile ground of postwar conformity and anti-Communist paranoia grew the seeds of countercultural revolution that would blossom in the last half of the 20th century. Such is the thesis of the Southern Winds Theatre's heartfelt family drama Kitchen Recipes.

;;"The 1950s you never saw on TV" is the tag line for this premiere performance of writer/producer Steve A. Rowell's script, and it's an apt one. In our collective memory, the '50s bask in the comforting glow of the cathode ray tube, a seductive facade of wise parents, obedient children and responsible government. From the sublime (Joe DiMaggio's achievements on and off the field) to the obscene ("Tailgunner" Joe McCarthy, as he is approvingly referred to), in this show the fledgling medium defines the decade. Kitchen Recipes, under the direction of David McElroy, aims to challenge our kinescoped myths by tracing the devolution of one nuclear family.


;A television cooking show serves as a framing device, establishing the pointed metaphor of three siblings — or "entrees" — prepared from the same "ingredients" but with divergent results. Betty (Jennifer Paccione) is a daddy's girl turned bitterly estranged; Charlie (Tyler Cravens) is the wayward prodigal son seeking redemption in the priesthood; and James (Derek Ormond) is the neglected middle child, grown into a dyspeptic TV executive married to the medium that raised him. We encounter them in the modern day as they struggle with the decision to commit their elderly father Albert (Alan Sincic) to a nursing home. The play then flashes back to the purchase of the family home, as we trace the evolution and dissolution of their family unit.


;Bonnie Sprung's efficient set is a monochromatic abstraction of the prototypical family kitchen — white cabinets and Philco fridge hovering in a black void around a Formica dinette. Within those confines we are introduced to the newlywed Mr. and Mrs. Sanders. Albert is clearly smitten with the vivacious Rose (Marylin McGinnis) but not blind to the emotional instability hiding behind her sparkling eyes. There is a dangerous mania in her that she struggles to suppress, and with the birth of each child we watch her self-control erode. The role is an emotional workout, spanning the gamut from childlike glee to abject hysteria, and she attacks each note. She captures the charmingly seductive quality that can accompany mental illness, whether in a spokesmodel-inspired fugue or shyly struggling with the advances of a lecherous neighbor (Eric Kuritzky). Sincic is fine in the less flashy role, stoically chronicling the journey from hopeful new father to dissipated old man.

;;; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
; Southern Winds Theatre at Studio Theatre Garage ;
; Through Sept. 3 ;
; 407-719-6319;
; $15;

The heart of the show is concerned with children, and each sibling is given at least one moment to shine: James facilely slips in and out of TV character impressions as a defense mechanism; Charlie allows flashes of his angry past to show through the cracks of his newfound holiness; Betty makes a desperate, years-too-late bid for paternal acceptance.


;Rowell's deliberately constructed script is chock-full of parallels and echoes. Sometimes it is too carefully built for its own good; the script is narrowly focused on these characters' defining traumas to the exclusion of the quirks and contradictions of real family life. As a memory play it can be forgiven vagueness in the particulars of period, but some moments (an overly prescient coming-out scene) ring anachronistically false. The direction tends toward the theatrical, with characters loudly declaiming when they might more naturally be having an intimate conversation. But by the conclusion there is a gentle honesty in the play's bittersweet anticlimax. This may not be the easiest family to watch, and for some audience members the issues may hit uncomfortably close to home, but there is much to admire as this passionate cast throws everything into it — including the kitchen sink.


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