top of page

The Art of French Cooking offers a Surreal, Absurd, Female Empowerment Tale Twenty Five Years in the Making

By Ezekiel McAdams

May 1 2024

The Art of French Cooking poster image.png

  25th Street Theatre’s latest production, The Art of French Cooking is written by playwright, Madeline Blais-Dahlem and directed by 25th St Theatre’s artistic director, Anita Smith.


  The production opens May second and runs till the twelfth of 2024 at the Emrys Jones Theatre, located at the John Mitchell Building at the University of Saskatchewan.

  It stars Sarah Bergbusch, Tim Bratton, Marley Duckett, Bobbi Lee Jones, Elizabeth Nepjuk and Danova Duckett as Boobel Understudy on the dates from May 9-11th.

  The play has been an undertaking of twenty five years from inception to be a fully formed play ready for the stage.


  Blais Dahlem was a high school teacher before pursuing her passion of writing. She is, known in the Canadian French theatre world, has written several plays for La Troupe Du Jour French theatre company in Saskatoon including Foyer (Almost Home) and Les vieux peteux (Old Farts). She wrote her first novel, La voix de mon pere/My Father’s Voice which was published in 2015 in a bilingual format. The Art of French Cooking is her English language debut.


  Blais-Dahlem, has always wanted to be a writer, she grew up in a French village, Delmas, near North Battleford. “I always wanted to be a writer because I loved reading. I was raised on a farm on a French village and the books we had came from France and I never dreamed at the time that I could do that. Writing is really hard and it has to be an overwhelming compulsion. I only started seriously writing in my forties when I absolutely had to. There was no other choice.”


  The challenge for her was deciding what language to write in, and had an insight while recalling a childhood memory, that the language had to be French. “English is the language of communication and French is the language of my soul. If you want it in a nutshell.” she said.


  The seed of this play came from being inspired by an article Blais-Dahlem read in a newspaper article about a charity event in Banff where Hollywood Starlets didn’t want to go skiing because it was -30 outside. “It starts with the simple idea, that women are referred as chicks and to something be consumed and a lot of men think women are something to be consumed. The essence of the theatre is you take a logical idea and you push it to an illogical conclusion.”

Blais-Dahlem also found a French cookbook Les Pinardises helpful in the development. The playwright also talked about her appreciation for chef and author, Julia Child. "Julia Child is present in the show as another name. I love her as a person. I shared this with the cast. She embodies the character of Cloris who guards the Tunnel of Love."

  The premise involves Blanche who embarks on a journey of self discovery after being rejected by her professional and romantic partner. The tone is surreal, absurd and fantastical and it includes Blanche's silicone implants, Boobel and Boobar. The duo have their own adventure and growth.

Bobbi Lee Jones Boobar , Sarah Bergbusch Boobelle (l-r) 25th Street Theatre (3).jpg

  One of her favourite things about writing is the use of language that she can incorporate.  “I like words that resonate, that have an echo, history that have a connotation. For example, in the play towards the end, Blanche, the protagonist says ‘I will not be rendered.’ Render is a wonderful word because it means to boil down fat, we’re talking kitchen imagery here but render also means to not give up.” She said.


  When it came time to start thinking of what plays would be produced for 25th Street Theatre’s upcoming season, Smith was compelled by Blais-Dahlem’s script in multiple ways. “Madeline’s script hurt my brain and I read it and I had to sit down and think for awhile and read it again and again. The way Madeline had written her script at times feels unconquerable and I think that’s why it took so much time to be produced.”


  Smith was fortunate to be able to test drive the script last year from the Canada Council of the Arts. “It helped answer a lot of questions and made it feel possible and I’m very grateful that it’s not a long script. I think if it was a two act play, we couldn’t do it.”


  Before becoming artistic director at 25th St Theatre in 2019, Smith grew up on a ranch near Abbey and discovered her love of acting in a church play. “Everybody laughed at my character and I’ve never heard such sound in our church before. I was hooked that I was able to evoke that response from people. I was all in.”


  She describes her school as so small, they didn’t have a drama teacher, but would elect a drama director “When I was in grade ten, I was elected our drama director and I really got a ton of directing, producing, and experience when I was very young”


  When she was sixteen, she started The Small Town Drama Festival, which she did for five years. “I can’t believe the adults in my life agreed to it. I was cold calling schools, it was a train I couldn’t or wouldn’t’ stop.”


  Smith’s journey in theatre continued, graduating with a BFA. She was one of the founding members of Ferre Play Theatre, created due to the lack of roles offered in Saskatoon theatre to female identifying artists. Their first production, The Penalopiad opened in 2019. The company co-produced Breaking The Curse with 25th Street Theatre in 2022. “I never stopped self producing. I never lost that desire if someone isn’t making it happen for you, you make it happen for yourself.”


  Smith prides herself on pursing more opportunities for women and female identifying artists in the theatre community. Her first time directing was J. Caesar, an adaptation of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. It featured an all female cast, which was a first for the company. “I really feel that show helped shift not just Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan but across our whole community in terms of the number of roles offered to female identifying people and the leadership positions we offer to.”


  Smith is also very proud of an indie play, Waiting for the Parade by Lili Marlene Co-operative in 2012, which was also nominated for a SATA (Saskatchewan And Area Theatre Awards) Award for Outstanding Ensemble Cast. “It’s shaped a big part of my life and they’re all coincidentally all female cast.” she said

  When it came to the rehearsal process, Smith was grateful to the collaboration that was instrumental in bringing this production to the stage. “It’s something very important to me, to have very collaborative rooms and is a high priority to me.”

Table Read 25th Street Theatre.jpg
Rehearsal pic Bobbi Lee Jones, Sarah Bergbusch 25th Street Theatre.jpg

  When it came to the rehearsal process, Smith was grateful to the collaboration that was instrumental in bringing this production to the stage. “It’s something very important to me, to have very collaborative rooms and is a high priority to me.”

  The cast and crew valued not only Smith’s leadership but the collaboration of the entire team. Marley Duckett spoke very highly of the costumes co-created by Emma Gustafson and Beverly Kobelsky. “My first character is a Las Vegas showgirl chicken. I never thought I’d feel so beautiful as a giant chicken, but I do.”

Marley Duckett The Art of French Cooking 25th Street Theatre.JPEG
The Art of French Cooking Costume plans 25th Street Theatre.jpg

  Duckett, who plays multiple roles from a Las Vegas showgirl chicken to a cardinal and a character named Cloris who was only described very cryptically. She is very excited to be a part of this endeavor. “I’ve never done anything like it. It’s a first for me. People will either love it or hate it.”


  Duckett has acted for most of her life and has been involved in multiple styles of theatre ranging from plays to being involved in the Saskatoon Improv scene. She is also a seasonal lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan at the Anthropology Department. She also holds a Masters in Anthropology and does work with Wanuskewin Heritage Park as part of the Development and Fundraising team. “I’m a person of many hats, which I think is a useful metaphor for a theatre artist. I’m trying really hard to explore as many side of myself.”   


  Both Duckett and Smith gushed about everything from the costumes and set design to the projection screens “There are some really neat projections, let’s leave it at that. The way the set is designed and moved and it’s designed for the set and designs to really work together.” Duckett exclaimed.


  The Art of French Cooking runs from May 2-12th 2024 at Emrys Jones Theatre, located at the John Mitchell Building at the University of Saskatchewan. Tickets can be bought online at 25th Street Theatre or the box office.


“My favourite place is my imagination and so to write something like this that takes place in an alternate universe. I’m quite comfortable there.”  Blais-Dahlem said.

bottom of page