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Humor is a great medicine, but it also can please the palate.
People who attend Linda Spall’s portrayal of misguided chef Marjoram Fennel will get their fill of food, fun and maybe even a funky recipe for a good cause.
The St. Louis actress and entertainer is returning to Pike County for the Louisiana Area Historical Museum’s fundraising luncheon.
It’s at noon on May 11 at the Seton Center, 510 N. Third, in Louisiana. Tickets are $15 each, which includes the meal and show. They are available by calling 573- 754-4443 or 573-754-6495.
Last year, Spall left a Louisiana audience spellbound with her portrayal of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. This year’s program entitled, “Cooking With Marge,” promises to be just as engaging.
With a tablespoon of hilarity, a cup or two of chuckles and just a pinch of melancholy, Spall will weave a story of Marge’s life inside and outside the kitchen, all while trying to bring to culinary life some recipe she may not manage to get quite right.
It’s a role Spall first developed five years ago, when a friend referred her to a Maplewood restaurant that wanted to stage a murder mystery. At the time, Spall had more than 20 years of experience in the genre, working with Kevin O’Brien’s Upstage Productions and the Royal Dumpe Theater.
“In the interview, the owner said she wanted to do cooking classes and did catering,” Spall said. “So, we decided to do a comedy cooking dinner theater show instead. It ran for a year.”
Spall also drew inspiration from the British Broadcasting Corporation show, “Keeping Up Appearances,” which ran on PBS. The show centered upon a woman who failed progressively a little more each time she tried to get ahead in life.
The character’s name was Hyacinth Bucket, but she insisted it be pronounced “bouquet.”
In Spall’s presentation, her character is named Fennel, but she pronounces it Fuh-NELL.
“Marge is a Hyacinth, Julia Child and Martha Stewart wannabe,” Spall said.
Well, Stewart, perhaps. But Child? No way.
The late television chef endeared herself to generations of Americans with her high-pitched voice and easy-to-follow instructions for making elegant meals. Child found so hysterical a “Saturday Night Live” spoof in which she cuts herself and continues to provide a recipe while bleeding profusely that she showed it regularly to friends.
“Julia was cultured, went to school and knew what she was doing,” Spall said. “She could speak French, and used ingredients and words that would boggle Marge’s mind. Marge puts hot dogs in the middle of Jiffy corn muffins and thinks they are corn dogs. The only French Marge is familiar with is a brand of mustard.”
Marge is “certainly opposite of Julia, but she tries so hard,” Spall said.
And that’s a key factor in the audience’s acceptance of her, the actress noted. Even with a cookbook in hand, many people stumble around the stove.
“Marge and I have a lot in common,” Spall admitted. “Neither of us can cook! I can’t even remember what my poor children ate while growing up. There is nothing serious about Marge, though I don’t know if she knows that.”
The performance originally was written for two 45-minute acts, so Spall covers a lot of ground even in the stripped-down version. The audience will get plenty of advice, such as “livestock is not a proper gift at a wedding.”
“The good thing is that it’s not just about cooking,” Spall said. “It’s also about Marge’s family, trials and tribulations of her station in life, her pursuit of elegance and her presentation of cooking misinformation.”
Good cooks know that it takes preparation and patience as well as performance and, sometimes, a little prayer to make things turn out right.
“Poor Marge, I’m not sure she is familiar with those principles,” Spall lamented. “Through years of mishaps, she certainly is prepared for the worst. Her patience is usually not a problem, because she doesn’t waste time reading directions or trying out recipes. And as far as performance goes, she thinks a potato brush is a toothbrush. The prayer part she has mastered, as she prays heartily every time she cooks.”
Other characters Spall portrays include former First Lady Edith Wilson, Hannibal native and Titanic survivor “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown, and hatchet-wielding temperance advocate Carrie Nation.
However, she’s branched out the Fennel character to include “Spring Cleaning With Marge,” “Camping With Marge” and “Working With Marge.”
The guffawing gourmet already has her own website — www.cookingwithmarge.com — which advises “prepare to laugh your bundt off” — and may consider doing travelogues with Marge on YouTube.
“That’s probably the next step,” Spall said.
So, will it be a good idea to sample whatever Marge whips up during the show?
“Only at your own risk,” Spall warned.