Dairy-Free Love: Q&A With Victoria Murdoch

Actress and playwright Victoria Murdoch talks about her edible one-woman show

Photo by Joanna Haughton.

Dairy-Free Love is a new play by actress and first-time playwright Victoria Murdoch. The one-woman comedy (which placed third in the 2012 Hamilton Fringe Festival’s Playwriting Contest) examines life, love and marriage through the eyes of Dawn, a quirky housewife and hostess of the online cooking show “Dawn’s Delights.”  Inspired by Murdoch’s experiences re-learning how to cook after being diagnosed with gluten and lactose intolerance, the show is structured as a one-hour cooking demonstration during which Murdoch prepares three dairy and gluten-free desserts live on stage.

Directed by Susan Wilby, Dairy-Free Love starts previews in Toronto this weekend at Coffee & All That Jazz (72 Howard Park), followed by a tour of the London and Hamilton Fringe Festivals this summer. Here, Murdoch gives us the goods on this delectable production.

Theatromania: What inspired Dairy-Free Love?

VM: Dairy-Free Love is a comedy that started with the idea of feeling like you’re living a substitution for "real" life. When I think of the term “dairy-free,” it refers to making something more palatable for someone who isn’t able to digest the real thing. The idea behind Dairy-Free Love is that the character Dawn is unable to cope with, or digest real life—she creates her own version, her own little bubble that allows her to exist. Dawn has made substitutions for life and love that allow her to get by, but she’s had enough of the trap she’s created for herself. On the five-year anniversary of the last time she left the house, she is finally looking for a change, and that’s where the play starts.

Theatromania: Tell us about your character, Dawn. Can you relate to her?

VM: Dawn is someone who takes great pride and care in the domestic arts: cooking, housekeeping, homemaking and hosting. She would have done well living in the 1950s. Her wardrobe, as well as hair and makeup—created by makeup and hair stylist Jessica Jean Myers—reflect her nostalgia for the values associated with that era. She’s a bit of a relic who clings to the well-controlled, semi-time capsule she has created for herself. Her husband travels for a living, and to fill her evenings, she hosts an Internet cooking show where she invites the world to join her for a virtual dinner party. On the surface, Dawn is warm and loving, with a touch of quirkiness, but if you dig deeper, she is cripplingly bound by her need for perfect control.

Me? I love cooking; I find it to be a relaxing escape from everyday stresses. When I’m feeling the need to wind down and hide away, I’ll hold up in my kitchen for a whole day; cooking, baking, preparing, and if I’m feeling up to it, I’ll have friends and family over for a drop-in meal or tea. I can absolutely relate to Dawn’s need for control, and trouble navigating social situations—I think a lot of people can! If you locked me in a house with no social interaction, an amazing kitchen, a constant supply of fresh groceries, an Internet connection and came back to check on me in five years, you’d get Dawn!

Theatromania: You have been gluten and dairy-free since 2007. How has this change in your diet affected your life?

VM: In early 2007, I was taken aside by a good friend and told in so many words that she was worried about me. I was quite literally wasting away in front of her eyes. I had no energy, I had no colour in my cheeks, I had lost weight and my hair was thinning: I was a shadow of myself. That friend convinced me to seek medical attention, and see if there wasn’t a treatable explanation for my decline in vitality–and it turns out there was. I changed my diet completely, and it’s been a long and slow process to reclaim health. I’m still not where I want to be, but at least I know what path to take! I was inspired to start a recipe and gluten/dairy-free lifestyle blog—glutendairyfreedom.net—to share my experiences living and eating this way, and I have found it very rewarding!

As fate would have it, that friend who took me aside five years ago also happens to be a fellow actress and a very talented photographer, Joanna Haughton, who shot the promotional pictures for Dairy-Free Love! I am so grateful to her for the many gifts she’s given me!

Theatromania: After the Toronto previews, Dairy-Free Love will embark on a Hamilton and London Fringe tour. How did you become involved with these festivals?

VM: The Fringe is a wonderful system. In the case of London, I was drawn in a lottery, and for Hamilton it was first-come-first-serve. I also submitted an early draft of my script last fall to the Hamilton Fringe Playwriting contest, and was honoured to be chosen as second runner-up! I was part of a Hamilton Fringe show a few years ago, and I was very impressed by the arts community there—if anyone has a chance, do check out Hamilton and London! I have family in both cities that have been kind enough to offer me a room during both festivals. I’ll have to cook for them to say thank you! I also have a long list of family members and friends who contributed financially and in other ways to this production, and without their help, I would not be able to make this happen—for these people, I am truly, and utterly grateful and humbled by their support!

Theatromania: What’s next for you?

VM: This past winter, I took a trip to LA and studied acting in a number of studios there. I was fortunate to spend a good deal of class time on the character groundwork for this play at a unique studio in West Hollywood’s Theatre Row called The New Collective LA. It felt so great to be in LA, doing what I love, and my goal is to bring Dairy-Free Love back to Theatre Row in early 2013, where it was shaped, for a limited run!

As for my Toronto adventures, I’ll be returning for the third year as hostess and emcee for the Food Network Celebrity Stage at the Canadian National Exhibition in August. I get to greet a crowd, meet great chefs and watch them create amazing food…It’s a little bit awesome!

Follow Victoria at victoriamurdoch.com.


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