by Debbie Marcus
Today’s column starts with a scene from a comedy — “Vanities,” to be performed by the Tokyo International Players, or TIP, as it is more popularly known. It takes place in a sorority bedroom at a college. Graduation is at hand and three girls — Kathy, Mary and Joanne — are discussing their futures.
Joanne has no worries. She is getting married and Kathy and Mary feel that they should throw a shower. But what kind? To Kathy, a born “organizer,” the right decision becomes almost crucial.
“What about a kitchen shower?” she suggests. “Odds and ends — can openers, butcher knives and stuff.”
“What would the girls in the sorority know about that?” Mary replies. “Most of them have never seen a kitchen.”
Silence. The fact is indisputable. The girls of this sorority lead privileged lives. Others have always cooked for them; they can hardly boil water.
“Vanities,” by Jack Heifner, chronicles the progress of Kathy, Mary and Joanne from their school days in the south to their lives as adults in New York. Their progress mirrors the journey of all American women during a time of great change, through the turbulent ’60s to the women’s liberation movement during the unsettled 70s.
Each girl is affected: one fights to maintain traditional values; another becomes unsure about which values are “right,” and the third revels in the freedom that women’s lib has wrought. At play’s end, they aren’t the girls they were, though they still can’t do much more than boil water.
But theater is a world of illusion and the talented actresses who play these girls aren’t all thumbs in a kitchen. The wife and mother, sat alone guaranteeing familiarity with pots and pans. But beyond simple fare, living in cosmopolitan Tokyo often means having guests to dinner and though theater work usually keeps all three from their kitchens by day, when they entertain, they do it graciously and well.
What’s more, these women enjoy having company since they haven’t spent their day over a hot stove. Their secret? Scheduling, preparing what they serve in advance. But let’s look at these women who star in “Vanities” individually.
Barbara Knode, who plays prim “Joanne,” juggles time better than any acrobat. She and theater have been linked since her earliest days in New York. Training at the American Theater Wing, she has made numerous professional appearances including a tour with Melina Mercouri in the musical “Never On Sunday.”
Since debuting in “Mary, Mary,” Barbara has been involved in all areas of TIP and is currently Vice President. She is also a founding member of the Tokyo Theatre for Children and often appears professionally — on radio, on stage, and in movies and TV.
Another Barbara — Barbara Simonetti who portrays freewheeling “Mary” — also hails from New York. A mother of four, she somehow found the time to earn a degree in music from Manhattanville College. And if following that with a teaching career isn’t enough, she has remained active in community theater and in drama workshops.
After arriving in Tokyo. Barbara became Theatre for Children’s musical director for “Alladin” and, most recently, was “Mum” in their musical “The Point.” For TIP, she has played Helene Hanff in a staged reading of “84 Charing Cross Road” and is a member of their Production Committee.
Judy Sackheim, who plays indecisive “Kathy,” leads as active a life. Theater is also her consuming passion and she has appeared in many productions of both Theatre for Children and TIP.
You may have heard Judy while watching a Japanese movie on a JAL flight. She often is the English voice of many a famed Japanese actress. Apart from dubbing their roles, she is an actress in her own right, working professionally in the United States as she is now doing in Japan.
Yes, these women are busy. Even so, Barbara Simonetti manages not only to entertain well, but also deliciously, her pasta salad a good case in point. “Like ‘Vanities,’ it’s a crowd-pleaser,” she says. “It goes with assorted sliced meats and cold chicken and can be made well in advance.”
PASTA SALAD SIMONETTI
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt
2 Tablespoons oil
1 lb. pasta (ziti or penne, best)
1 red onion
6 sweet pickles
1 large shallot
2 green peppers (seeded)
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 packets (or 2 tsp.) brown bouillon powder; or 2 crushed bouillon cubes
Black pepper corns (three twists of your grinder)
Dash of wine vinegar
1 tablespoon pickle juice handful of chopped, fresh dill
Add 1 tablespoon salt and 2 tablespoons oil to four quarts of boiling water; then, add the pasta. Boil till tender, stirring occassionally. Drain, rinse in cold water and drain again. Place pasta in a bowl for tossing later. (Note: When that times comes, a drop of milk helps separate pasta that has “sat” too long.)
Mince the shallot and chop the onion, tomatoes, pickles and peppers into 1/4-inch cubes. (Note: Set aside a tablespoon of each for garnish.) Beat sour cream and mayonnaise together until creamy and add the bouillon powder, 1/2 tablespoon salt and black pepper, stirring it into the mixture.
Pour over the pasta. Add the minced shallot, the diced tomatoes, pickles, green peppers, the vinegar and pickle juice. Toss well. Garnish with reserved vegetables and sprinkle fresh dill over all. Served chilled.
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Judy Sackheim offers a regional dish. “Since I’ve worked with Joe Grace on two plays that require a Southern accent,” says Judy Sackheim, “something from Dixie seems appropriate.” Now that her children are older, Judy cooks more for pleasure than necessity. And pleasureable indeed is:
SOUTHERN CHICKEN ‘DIVAN’ SACKHEIM
(Serves 4 generously)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
freshly ground pepper to taste
800 grams breast of chicken cut in strips, ‘sasami’ in Japanese
1 (8 oz.) carton of sour cream
1/4 lbs. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1 lb. fresh broccoli
2 tablespoons butter/margarine (to butter baking pan)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 1/3 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Dredge chicken in flour and pepper and brown in some of the butler. Remove and drain. Add broth to the pan and stir over low heat for five minutes. Return chicken to pan and sprinkle with basil. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, until the chicken becomes tender.
Trim broccoli. Place in a steamer. Steam about 10 minutes, removing when broccoli is still firm but heated through. Set aside. Saute mushrooms in a separate pan in the balance of the butter for approximately 2 minutes. Set aside.
Butter a 13″x9″x2″ baking dish. Cover the bottom with the broccoli. Next, add the strips of chicken, topping them with the mushrooms. Stir sour cream into the pan that held the chicken and cook over low heat until well heated, taking care that the mixture does not boll. Pour over the layered broccoli, chicken and mushrooms and sprinkle with cheese.
Place dish six inches under a broiler and broil 3 to 5 minutes, removing when the top is golden brown. This can be prepared in advance and browned before serving.
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Barbara Knode provides a dessert. She attached a note, saying “this was my favorite aunt’s recipe and, since I’m playing a Southern girl. I’d like to share it with your readers. Pecans are difficult to get in Tokyo but Anna Miller’s Pie Shop has a pretty good pecan pie. I chuckled the other day when I went in to buy one. Where the pecan pies are usually sold was an empty tin with this sign: ‘The nuts are coming soon from America’.” Well. Anna Miller’s pecan pies may be quite tasty but I’ll bet they can’t match Barbara Knode’s:
AUNT TANTA’S SOUTHERN PECAN PIE
(Makes an 8-inch pie.)
1/4 cup butter
dash of salt
3 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
1 1/2 cup pecan halves
1 unbaked pie shell
Blend butter, brown sugar and sail until creamy. Add corn syrup, well beaten eggs, pecans and vanilla. Mix well. Turn into an unbaked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes. The pie is done when a knife inserted comes out clean. (Note: The sides of the pie crust should be built up for the eggs make the filling rise.)