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Here & Now

Mac and Cheese … and a Helping of Shakespeare (Judy Stead)Mac and Cheese … and a Helping of Shakespeare

Oh joy, jubilation and hey nonny, nonny! Wondrous things keep happening here on the Gulfshore, not the least of which are Madam Mac’s new soul food kitchen and a home stage for Shakespeare in Paradise.

Madam Mac and John McKerrow probably don’t know each other. Madam Mac (aka Dawn Bryant) makes possibly the most decadent macaroni and cheese on the Gulfshore, and John McKerrow is a top-tier Shakespearean actor, director and coach. Neither is a household name (yet). But on their own respective stages, each deserves a standing ovation for pursuing a personal dream that adds richness to our diverse lifestyle here in paradise.

Dawn didn’t start out dishing up her Magical Macaroni and Cheese at farmer’s markets. First, she got a master’s degree in human services administration and then spent more than two decades working with victims of abuse, the mentally ill and the elderly. In New York, she provided administrative oversight for five domestic violence shelters, and, in Naples, she was the assistant director of programs for the Shelter for Abused Women & Children. When she finally needed an emotional break from protecting people, she knew it was time to concentrate on the other kind of nurturing she loves: feeding them.

Radical Rations Catering Services was an instant hit. Madam Mac had to recruit her husband, Wakim (now Sir Mac), as well as other family members and friends. There’s charming Quintin and fried chicken sous-chef Saben. Even her daughter Danielle (aka Baby Mac) and son-in-law Andreas took some time from their busy New York careers to help out.

Who knew that in this enlightened world of sensible eating, macaroni and cheese still is the ultimate comfort food that will not be denied? I’ve seen how it works. A shopper with carb lust in his eyes lurks nonchalantly near the booth as if macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and red velvet cupcakes were the last things on this mind. Slowly, he eases closer, until someone slips a sample cup into his hand.

Then it goes something like this:

“OK, sure, as long as I’m here, might as well have a taste. Mac and cheese with lobster, crab or sausage, you say? Ah, well, I’ll take a small order of each. And, oh, I don’t know, a bit of that pulled pork and some mashed potatoes. Can I get extra gravy on that?”

I confess, I was a lurker myself the first time. Now I just brazenly walk right up. Because here’s the thing: For every indiscretion of creamy crab macaroni and cheese that passes my lips, a hundred fresh garden salads cancel out my sins. Life is about balance, isn’t it?

Radical Rations now makes the rounds to seven different farmer’s markets from Marco to Sanibel. To meet the demand, which also includes Dawn’s booming catering business serving corporate boardrooms and gated communities, she recently opened a second kitchen in North Naples. Between long hours of chefing and running her business, Madam Mac still makes time to mentor women on starting their own businesses through the Shelter for Abused Women & Children’s Economic Empowerment Program.

Maybe Madam Mac knows her Shakespeare, or maybe she doesn’t. But she certainly understands hey nonny, nonny.

Pay attention now, because that’s where John McKerrow comes in. “Hey nonny, nonny” is a made-up phrase in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice, having troubles with the arrogant Benedick, gives this advice to her women friends:

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,

Men were deceivers ever,    

One foot in sea and one on shore,   

To one thing constant never.   

Then sigh not so, but let them go,   

And be you blithe and bonny,    

Converting all your sounds of woe 

Into hey nonny, nonny.

John McKerrow had his own troubles with the sassy Beatrice when he played Benedick with the Naples Players. His woes got seriously worse in his title role in Macbeth, A Love Story at the Naples Botanical Garden. But in real life, his sighs of woe were more related to finding a home for his fledgling theater company, Shakespeare in Paradise. If all the world’s a stage, then where, pray tell, was his?

But today I’m betting he’s singing “hey nonny, nonny,” because Shakespeare in Paradise finally has a home stage. Its first production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, begins at Barron Collier High School on March 22. Special thanks go to former BCHS English department head Pam Grabczynski and current theater department head Chris Johnston for helping make it happen.

But really, who cares about Shakespeare anymore?

Ha! Doubt that the sun doth move; doubt truth to be a liar -but never doubt that this 16th century playwright is still showing up in 21st century culture. This line from Hamlet, Act 2, which I shamelessly plagiarized and ever so slightly modified, does have a point. On Feb. 2, renowned Shakespeare authority Daniel Rosenthal will prove it in his lecture at the Phil, Inspired by Shakespeare, A Screen Odyssey.

And there’s plenty more Shakespeare afoot here on the Gulfshore. The Laboratory Theater of Florida is already planning its third annual Gulf Coast Shakespeare Festival at the Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers. Meanwhile, their production of Romeo and Juliet starts Feb. 10 at Kiwanis Hall.

The Naples chapter of the venerable English Speaking Union encourages hundreds of local high school actors through the National Shakespeare Competition. This year’s semifinals take place at Moorings Presbyterian Church on Feb. 25. It’s open to the public at no charge.

SIP’s Macbeth, A Love Story will be returning in April as part of the Marco Players Lunchbox Series.

Lunchboxes, hmmm. I wonder if there’s crab mac and cheese inside. If not, Madam Mac delivers.

This article appears in the January 2012 issue of Gulfshore Life.

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