Arizona's Invisible Theatre Company will open Norma Jean Darden's homespun solo, Spoonbread And Strawberry Wine Feb. 26.
Subtitled "Recipes And Reminiscences Of A Black Family," Spoonbread is set in the Darden family kitchen, amidst photographs, anecdotes and, most importantly, the recipes that play a role in all gatherings, celebrations and rituals.
But Darden is no ordinary happy homemaker. One of the first black women to break into high fashion, she served as a Wilhemina model before debuting on Broadway in Gore Vidal's Weekend. Once a member of Joseph Papp's Cornbread Players, Darden is now owner and operator of NY's Spoonbread Catering Company. Her 1978 cookbook sold more than 200,000 copies before its recent reissue as a paperback.
The idea for Spoonbread And Strawberry Wine occurred when Darden prepared a meal for a friend who brought along another friend: Tennessee Williams. "Somewhere between the entree (smothered pork chops, succotash and biscuits) and the dessert (peach cobbler)," Darden asked Williams why his plays had no major African-American characters. The dramatist replied that black artists would have to start telling their own stories.
During the show, Darden actually prepares recipes (which the audience gets to taste). Throughout, she tells of her family history, which starts with her paternal grandfather -- born as a slave -- and continues with her childhood as a sister to 12 other children. All 13 went to college. The show embraces "the commonality of all folks who cherish family life and love to eat." As a special treat, on March 1 Darden will present a 1-2:30 PM workshop on using oral history to preserve cultural heritage. The workshop is free but requires reservations (520) 882-9721.
On Sunday, Feb. 23, the theatre hosted a special fundraiser, titled "My Sunday Dinner With Norma," at Ovens Restaurant. Musicians played, and all the recipes were, of course, from the cookbook.
For tickets ($20) and information on Spoonbread And Strawberry Wine at the Invisible Theatre on North First Ave., Feb. 24-March 16, call (520) 882-9721.
--By David Lefkowitz