Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Comfort Theater

When Danielle Dresden and Donna Peckett thought about Madison’s historic Greenbush neighborhood, a multitude of interwoven elements came to mind. They thought of the tight-knit community, the struggles its residents faced, the families’ stories, the culture, the food.

It was with all of these ideas that Peckett and Dresden, artistic directors of TAPIT/new works Ensemble Theater, created the new play Mangia, Mangia—Family, Food and Life in the Greenbush.

“It’s about food and culture, and how food connects us to culture,” Dresden says.

In the play four actors—women of different generations including Dresden and Peckett—take on a variety of roles. The characters’ stories are interspersed over two acts, without being held to chronology, to offer a slice of life in the Greenbush.

Peckett and Dresden interviewed former residents to get their personal stories of the neighborhood, then sifted, winnowed and sometimes combined elements to create material for the play. They also took inspiration from Catherine Tripalin Murray, who has collected recipes and photos and written cookbooks based on the Greenbush.

A partner in the production is Teresa Pullara-Ouabel of Bunky’s Restaurant, who prepares samples of the recipes featured in the play to share with audiences. The food, along with the storefront theater setting of TAPIT/new works, helps create an intimate, family-style atmosphere.

In addition to showing the role food held for Greenbush families, the play highlights how residents honored their families and culture even through financial hardships.

“I think we have so much to learn from those times and those people, how less is more,” Dresden says.

Dresden and Peckett believe the timing of Mangia, Mangia is appropriate for the current economic challenges. The play serves as a reminder to keep optimism and hope alive.

“There are a lot of lessons to take back from the Greenbush,” Peckett says. “God knows we need something.”

Adds Dresden, “My goal is to evoke and share a rich and wonderful past and recreate—if only briefly—a sense of that community, and to do so long enough for us to learn something to take back with us.”

The two collected many stories through their Greenbush research that they weren’t able to fit into the play. But they’re hoping to offer a production of “leftovers” sometime soon.

Mangia, Mangia opened November 7 and runs through the 23 at TAPIT/new works, 1957 Winnebago St. Tickets are $17 and include food samples, and performances take place Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. For more information, call 244.2938 or visit

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