Screen readers: Two navigational links to follow.Skip to site navigation.Skip to page content.
The University of Iowa News Services
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release


June 29, 2007

Summer Rep Hits Full Tilt With 'An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf'

Iowa Summer Rep's "Comédie du Jour" festival will hit full tilt with the opening of Michael Hollinger's antic "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf," at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 12, in the E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Other performances will be at 8 p.m. July 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21.

"An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf," directed by Iowa Summer Rep Artistic Director Eric Forsythe, takes place in 1961 when a café's owner -- distraught because Hemingway has died and his mistress has dumped him -- decides to starve himself in his own restaurant. He allows his frantic staff to prepare him one final meal, but there's a catch: They must leave the food in the kitchen and describe it, course by course, over a series of empty platters.

The result is a flamboyant face-off between haute cuisine and existential ennui that celebrates the joys of cooking, storytelling, sex, bullfighting, world travel and the collected works of Ernest Hemingway in a play that the New York Times critic described as "sheer operatic looniness."

Hollinger comments, "Young writers are often admonished to 'write what you know.' I think this is helpful advice if it makes you look inside yourself for the truth of your experience and try to convey that truth through your work. But it would be extremely limiting to take this advice too literally -- to restrict your canvas and palette to only those characters, settings and subjects that are familiar to you.

"A wise playwright I met years ago advised me instead to 'write what you need to know.' In other words, write to discover something. I was in utero when the events of "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf" take place. I've never been a multi-millionaire, or a gourmet chef, or idolized a certain legendary American writer. (Though my parents did almost get engaged at a bullfight.)

"All I knew when I entered this imaginary world was that a man was going to walk into a restaurant and announce his decision to kill himself. In the process of finding out who this man was and why he wanted to die, I discovered a few things I already knew and many things I needed to know -- about gourmet cooking, a certain legendary American writer and, most important, life, love and longing. I hope you discover something, too."

Forsythe says, "'Café du Grand Boeuf' translates loosely as the 'Big Beef Café,' and our protagonist not only has some big beefs about life, but also serves them to us in ways that are clever, hilarious and poignant."

Other artistic contributors to the Iowa Summer Rep production of "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf," include set designer Mark A. Parrott, costume designer Kaoime E. Malloy, lighting designer by David Thayer and dramaturg Bryan Moore.

Hailed as one of America's brightest new comic voices, celebrated for his razor-sharp wit and clever wordplay, Philadelphia-based Michael Hollinger is rapidly becoming one of the most successful and widely produced playwrights in this country and beyond. His plays have been produced in New York, in regional theatres around the country and throughout Europe. A production of "Opus" opens off-Broadway this summer.

In addition, he has written three short films and co-authored the feature-length "Philadelphia Diary" for PBS.

His growing list of honors and achievements ranges from the Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays to the Barrymore Award for Outstanding Play.

"This is a deft and colorful smorgasbord of plays: mixing into the salad something of the wildman craziness of a Steve Martin, say, with the wry emotional density of Chekhov and a touch of Noel Coward's wit," says artistic director Eric Forsythe, a faculty member in the UI Department of Theatre Arts. "Hollinger is absolutely unique -- clever and wise by turns."

Dinners before the evening shows will be offered again this year. A choice of several entrees, desserts and beverages will be available on the outdoor patio overlooking the Iowa River starting at 6 pm, Wednesday through Saturday evenings. Reservations are strongly encouraged. Call 319-335-3105.

Iowa Summer Rep is an U/RTA (University/Resident Theatre Association) company employing Equity actors and stage managers, as well as students who earn points toward their Actors Equity card.

Iowa Summer Rep has carved out a unique niche in American professional summer theater by presenting single-playwright festivals.

Iowa Summer Rep 2007 is supported by the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.

Tickets for "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf,"are $24 ($20 for senior citizens, and $12 for UI students and youth). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Tickets may be purchased 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at For phone or ticket-window purchases, the box office is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073; cell: 310-430-1013;