It all started over a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Several bowls, actually, confesses Nancy Nufer, author and co-star of Food Confessions, a new play that makes its world premiere at the Lobero Theatre on Sept. 21.
Fittingly, the preview performance on Sept. 20 will be a benefit for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. Additional shows that weekend feature restaurant tie-ins with Aldo’s Italian Ristorante, Fresco Café, Olio e Limone and Sojourner Café — all serving light meals prior to each performance and dessert at intermission.
No word yet on whether any of them will feature the humble comfort food that provided much of Nufer’s early inspiration for Food Confessions.
While dining with fellow actor Sara Bashor, Nufer observed that her friend always ordered macaroni and cheese when they went to restaurants.
“Finally I said, Sara, what’s the deal with macaroni and cheese?” she recalled. “And she let loose with this diatribe. She had very specific beliefs about the way macaroni and cheese should be served and how restaurants never do it right, and how they always adulterate it and they shouldn’t do that, and why are they putting all of those things in like lobster in macaroni and cheese; that’s just wrong.
“She went on and on ... and I thought, wow, this belongs in a play. So I went home and wrote all of that down.”
At about the same time, Nufer found herself living a double life, as a writer and performer in Santa Barbara and as a “1950s housewife in Rhode Island.”
Newly wed, at age 45, to Tom Archambault, the couple went East to “take care of his father for the last chapter.”
This was a huge change for Nufer, a Santa Barbara native who made her theatrical debut at age 4 in a production of South Pacific at the Lobero.
Spending time in Rhode Island, “I got a chance to break out of all my routines,” she said. “I got pushed out of all my boxes and I think that actually was very stimulating.”
She cited her part-time long-distance relationship with her husband by way of explanation.
“Because I don’t get to see Tom as much as most married couples, seeing as I’m splitting my time back and forth, I turn into a 1950s housewife when I’m Back East,” she said. “I never thought I would enjoy that and I love it! It’s actually fan-bloody-tastic!
“I do a lot of writing when I’m back there ... and I really look forward to organizing the week, planning the menus, doing the shopping, purchasing where the best prices are,” she continued. “I turned into my mother. I spent most of my adult life defending myself against that and, of course, now I really love that aspect of my life. I think I love it because I have both.”
It turns out this dual life provided both food for thought and fodder for art.
The ’50s homemaker found her way into Food Confessions, along with a slew of other characters. Nufer plays four roles and is joined by Dan Gunther, Robert Lesser, Kara Revel and Devin Scott, each of whom plays multiple characters. Even the lone musician, Doug Clegg, is multitasking, playing keyboards, accordion and drums.
“(The music) is a brand-new element that we haven’t had before, which goes to that collaborative thing,” said Nufer, who is quick to credit producer and longtime friend Rod Lathim (“I first saw him perform as Lil’ Abner in ninth grade,” she exclaimed.) for helping develop Food Confessions and bringing the show to the Lobero. Nufer also gives props to director Jenny Sullivan (whom she has also known for many years) for her guidance.
“Every time I turn around, somebody is adding something to the vision I started with, and it is so much more than I ever imagined it could be because of everyone else’s contribution,” she said.
Nufer has appeared in dozens of productions, including more than 30 at Ensemble Theatre, from Twelfth Night to Blithe Spirit, Marvin’s Room, Sylvia, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and more. Many may recognize her as a former KEYT weather girl and a local disc jockey.
But the heart of Food Confessions is food and the ways it connects us.
“I think we’re living in a culture where everybody is a little bit interested in food on some level, but I noticed that we’re interested in food in different ways,” Nufer said.
“Some people are interested because they have fervent beliefs about what is and isn’t right and how they should eat. Other people are interested in food because of taste; they’re on a quest that has to do more with sensuality of food and the sensations that go along with it — it’s a little more decadent.”
Nufer describes Food Confessions as “more like a casserole than like a linear piece. The pieces unfold and, as they unfold, you begin to see the connections of certain characters. By the end of the play you are fully aware of who is connected to who and what their comments are.”
After the performance, Nufer said, “I’m hoping people will head off to dinner somewhere and talk about ‘when I was growing up, we always had pancakes on Sunday mornings and mom made the strawberry faces on them.’ That’s what I’m hoping will happen. “
Lobero Live and Rod Lathim present Food Confessions, a preview benefit performance for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, at 8 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido. Before the play, ticket holders are invited to enjoy a light dinner featuring healthy, delicious recipes from the Foodbank’s nationally recognized programs prepared by local chefs and the Foodbank’s Pink and Dude Chef teen culinary program graduates.
Food Confessions will also be performed at the Lobero Theatre at 8 p.m. Sept. 21 and Sept. 22, and again at 2 p.m. Sept. 22 and Sept. 23. Supper Club tickets are available.
Click here to purchase tickets, or call the Lobero Box Office at 805.963.0761.