Editors' pick

A Tactile Dinner

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Editorial Review

'Tactile Dinner': Lots to chew on

By Celia Wren
Saturday, May 15, 2010

Does the war on American obesity have a new ally? A mustachioed guy in an aviator cap, goggles and black leather jacket is marching around a tiny cafe, yelling orders and poetic slogans at diners wearing white lab coats. "As futurists, you will agree that it is absolutely necessary to abolish pasta!" he roars.

No, this is not low-carb-diet sage Dr. Atkins risen from the grave and dressed for a steampunk ball. It's Italian poet F.T. Marinetti (1876-1944) lording it over "A Tactile Dinner," a stimulating and deliberately unnerving performance-art piece that's a revival of a 2009 Capital Fringe hit. Simmering at the Big Bear Caf through Saturday, and at the Long View Gallery on Sunday and Monday, this daringly interactive, philosophically pungent, meal-like extravaganza is designed to spatula audiences out of their comfort zones -- theatrical and gustatory -- and instill a new appreciation of sensory experience.

In addition to Marinetti (Ken Hays, with a military bearing), the production features several "servertrons" (Stephanie Davio, Carrie Monger, Melissa Krodman and Otis Ramsey-Zoe) who act as wordless waiters, when not functioning as eerie vaudevillians or surreal drill sergeants. After donning the lab coats, which are curiously -- and purposefully, it turns out -- ornamented (red feather trim, button-like googly eyes, etc.), ticketholders take seats at small tables. The noise of zooming race cars whips through the space; and then . . .

It would be a shame to give too much away. Suffice it to say that this still-rattled reviewer -- who will never think about ricotta in the same way again -- has vivid memories of sandpaper-and-flattened-kumquat pairings, a vibrating floor, a blindfold, a cottony twig whose flavor evoked scorched celery marinated in witch hazel, and music that sounded like a construction site mated with a glockenspiel. (The performances at Long View Gallery will include more courses and run 15 minutes longer than the 60-minute Big Bear Caf edition.)

This orgy of synapse-battering is not pure whimsy on the part of conceiver/director Carmen C. Wong and Banished? Productions, the self-described "avant-pop" producing company. "Tactile Dinner's" concept and script draw heavily on the 1932 "Futurist Cookbook" and other writings of Marinetti, whose brainchild, futurism, launched in 1909, was an iconoclastic artistic and literary movement in love with technology, modernism and speed. The movement's ideology strayed toward militarism and fascism, as "Tactile Dinner" smartly acknowledges at several points.

A serving of aesthetic anarchy that's not for the faint of heart or of stomach, this show seems particularly well suited to a country suffering from bad eating habits and awaiting the advent of a second food-centric cable channel. After Marinetti points out the essential arbitrariness of taste, you'll be less likely to mindlessly down that bag of Doritos. But you may second-guess that organic, locally grown shallot-and-spinach terrine, too.

Conceived and directed by Carmen C. Wong; technical direction and props, Niell DuVal; stage manager, Susanna Oentorodottir; production chef and pantry manager, Sam Vick-McGill; chef and sous chef for Big Bear Caf, Joshua Chambers and Mark DeCelles; chef and sous chef for Long View Gallery, Lisa Hviding and Greg Grillot; videography, Ayo Okunseinde; choreography, Carrie Monger and Melissa Krodman.