A Deceptive Dinner

The Humans ensemble. Photo by Epic Photography

In interviews, actors often end up answering the same questions and are sometimes hungry for new topics. Because The Humans takes place over Thanksgiving dinner, actors Richard Lee and Sara Farb, who play NYC-based couple Richard and Brigid, decided to do something else: have a conversation about staging—and eating—a fictional meal. Read on for some behind-the-scenes secrets about eating onstage.

RICHARD

Today we are going to talk about food, food, and more food. Our first question is, “Is the food in the show, real or fake?”

SARA

As the sole food preparer, why don’t you lead us off?

RICHARD

Sure. So, the food in the show is predominantly real—

SARA

And what food are you talking about?

RICHARD

The appetizers are all real appetizers, the main dinner is all real, and the only fake food in the show is the dessert.

SARA

So, so, the dinner would be a Thanksgiving dinner…

RICHARD

Yes, which involves turkey! Turkey, sweet potatoes, uh… Deirdre [Sara’s character’s mom]’s bean casserole, which is supposed to be the most disgusting thing in the world…. What else is there?

SARA

Stuffing, salad. We have gravy.

RICHARD

Gravy, yeah…

SARA

And…

RICHARD

What are those weird… It’s like Yorkshire pudding bread?

SARA

Oh yeah, those weird buns.

RICHARD

Puffy bun pastries.

SARA

Oh and, and… cranberry sauce.

RICHARD

And cranberry, fuc— who can forget the cranberry sauce. Goddamit.

SARA

It’s the ONLY way I’ll eat the “sweet potatoes.”

RICHARD

Here’s the caveat…

*** A short and heated conversation ensues around whether Richard and Sara should give spoilers away about what the actual food props are. Punches are thrown, some eyes bruised, but they decide it’s worth it. Sooooo…. FOOD SPOILERS AHEAD ***

RICHARD

The reality is that the turkey is actually chicken. The sweet potatoes are actually squash, butternut squash. The bean casserole is really bean, but instead of the lovely milky butter taste, it’s actually yogurt–

SARA

It’s LACTOSE-FREE yogurt!

RICHARD

It’s lactose-free yogurt—

SARA

With almond slices.

RICHARD

Or with almond-cluster bits and pieces. The stuffing is stovetop stuffing, the gravy is whatever mix they get, and the cranberry is Ocean Spray.

The Humans ensemble. Photo by Epic Photography

SARA

And the salad is real salad.

RICHARD

The salad is real salad. It’s supposed to be rainbow chard.

SARA

Yes—

RICHARD

But we only have one kind of chard and we mix in other colourful vegetables to help give it the rainbow chard flavour. The reason why there are all these little limitations is because some members of the cast have very specific dietary needs.

SARA

We have a member of the cast with celiac disease—

RICHARD

And what is celiac? We gotta let them know…

*** Sara launches into a scientific presentation about celiac disease. A word-for-word account can be found here ***

RICHARD

Fascinating…

SARA

Shut up. Basically it’s an immune reaction of the body triggered by eating food that contains gluten. It’s found predominantly in wheat, but in many other things as well.

RICHARD

And gluten is pervasive in—

SARA

Many sauces, many household items. It is not to be taken lightly.

RICHARD

Uh huh.

SARA

Like even, tiny details, like having actual bread on the stage, not gluten-free bread, to have this bread not touch other food items—

RICHARD

That’s a big one for me when it comes to me prepping the food in the show. I can’t mess it up!

SARA

Yeah, because any crumbs, or even the slightest molecule, could trigger this cast member’s sensitivity. And it would be a nightmare.

RICHARD

It can cause stomach pains, flu-like symptoms… [refer to Sara’s scientific presentation here]

SARA

Yes, very serious symptoms if ingested. So, in preparing the meal that we all have to eat, willingly and happily… extensive thought had to be given and clearance had to be considered in terms of what substitutions we could have and how full our plates could look.

RICHARD

I always have to make sure I wash my hands a lot when I am prepping food in the show. I am constantly washing my hands—

SARA

Luckily, we have a functional sink!

RICHARD

If you watch the show, I’m washing my hands every five minutes. Other members of the cast—you’ll have to guess which ones—have lactose intolerance, and have cucumber and carrot intolerance, which cause uncomfortable gas episodes. It’s not pleasant to share the stage with this cast member, aka me—

SARA

Oh!!!

RICHARD

Sara, you haven’t borne witness that yet, have you?

SARA

I don’t think so.

RICHARD

Oh thank god!

The Humans ensemble. Photo by Epic Photography

SARA

I’m lactose intolerant, hence the lactose-free yogurt on the beans. Which starts out okay, but then becomes like paste. It becomes—you’ve covered the beans in white goop.

RICHARD

See, I haven’t eaten the beans by that point in the show, so I don’t know.

SARA

You know, it’s not bad, in theory. Yogurt and green beans is kinda nice. But I stick to the tomatoes, and the pickles.

RICHARD

The pickles I love! That’s something we share—

SARA

The mini gherks…

RICHARD

Yeah, the mini gherks, which I feel like is a Brigid and Richard [their characters] romance trait.

SARA

Yeah! The hummus I stay away from, cause it’s a bit garlicky. What else… the ranch dip is yogurt, because real ranch dip is gross and because one of our cast has to eat A LOT of it. What else? Oh yes, the wine is TEA….

RICHARD

Oh right, the wine is pre-brewed tea done by our lovely stage managers, or by the stage crew here in Toronto.

SARA

Most of this food is prepared by our stage crew and stage managers.

RICHARD

Okay, so what’s your favourite food in the show?

SARA

I really like the salad!

RICHARD

Do you really?

SARA

There’s something satisfying about how chewy it is?! The stalks of the chard… And it’s dressed quite nicely. The stuffing is amazing, but I need to stay away from it because I would just eat the whole pan. IT’S SOO GOOD.

RICHARD

My favourite is the chicken. Only because it’s flavoured very nicely.

SARA

One of those rotisserie chickens.

RICHARD

One of those rotisserie chickens, yes! And it’s the only thing I really have time to eat. If you watch the show, I think I only have time to literally take five bites.

SARA

The chicken I like to take home with me, because on stage it gives me a stomachache to eat that fast.

Now the problem with this show is there is a lot of food waste. So I have been trying to encourage myself to take home as much leftover food as possible. Particularly something like the chicken and the squash, which is a little more expensive. And of course the abundance that gets wasted is disturbing.

RICHARD

The food waste is a great point. [And also] I’m sure that the theatre is concerned about food safety…

SARA

Absolutely. The question of food safety has come up because the food is located in various places throughout the show at varying temperatures so it becomes a food safety issue. This has been carefully planned for us.

RICHARD

The production has been extremely mindful to waste as little as possible. There is not any more than needs to be there.

Last question, “Who is the piggy in the cast?” I would say it’s—

SARA

I’m the piggy! I eat nonstop during the show, largely because I don’t really eat much before it, because there’s so much free food on stage. But also, I feel like it agrees with my character. To be eating the whole time. It’s her apartment, she is in front of her family, all bets are off. And she’s just hungry and wants dinner to start already. So I really take advantage, and I am not ashamed.

RICHARD

No, nor should you be. And I think it’s amazing cause out of everyone at the table I think you are the only person who finishes their ENTIRE meal.

Richard Lee and Sara Farb star in The Humans, on now at Canadian Stage.

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Written By

Sara has an English degree from the University of Toronto. Apart from alleviating the terror that this performing thing will collapse, she suspects it's helped make her a relatively analytical thinker and an avid enjoyer of books. She likes going to CrossFit so she can eat more French fries at night.

Written By

Richard is an award-winning actor, fight director, sound designer, and theatre producer. His work has garnered him multiple Dora Mavor Moore nominations out of which he has received three: one for sound design and two for performance.