Saturday, December 4, 2010

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant: Feast of Miracles, Cleveland Public Theatre

(Another subtle moment at the Restaurant)

Okay. let’s try explaining Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant: Feast of Miracles, now at Cleveland Public Theatre, this way: It’s just like having dinner at mom’s, if your mom was a really good cook but intensely weird, and had a bunch of strung-out friends dressed (and undressed) in all manner of thrift store garb who serve you a five-course meal while dancing, playing instruments, singing, and acting out bizarre little micro-dramas along with a couple dazzling spectacles.

No, that doesn’t work. Let’s try this: There’s a male bee with an English accent who’s called Mrs. Robinson, a bear that dances, a young woman named Goodi Two-Shoes who gets pregnant by a god, a doctor with no pants, a semi-threatening dude named MyStroh who often carries an ever-attentive duck, Silver3 (the 3 is silent) who is the sparkly hostess and who plays the violin and also gets pregnant, a guy named Hunter who will pour you wine before the show even though he prefers beer, General Manager Sue James who keeps all of this chaos semi-organized, and Personal Jesus who is the cook and plays a recorder.

Missed again. How about: The script (such as it is) touches on holiday traditions such as It’s A Wonderful Life and incorporates some music and dance from The Nutcracker. It also features a guy pouring heavy cream and Wild Turkey into his mouth while abusing himself with an electric mixer, orgasms played backwards, belly dancing with kitchen utensils, one girl rogering another girl roundly, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being shot to death and then coming back to life before being de-antlered.

Crap, that doesn’t work. Try: The audience is seated at tables for ten, each table with three bottles of wine (part of the admission price, extra bottles can be purchased), the actors mill around and do mini-improvs at each table when they’re not serving or doing scenes, and they hold a ”Bus That Table” contest where one patron from each table competes to see how fast they can clear the dishes and silverware. Then they compete in a quiz show.

Forget that, let’s talk about the food. The curried butternut squash soup is delish, and there’s enough for seconds and maybe thirds. Artisanal bread is ripped off in hunks. An herbed apple and fennel salad is tasty, as are the brown-buttered radishes and sage-roasted sweet potatoes that accompany the smoked ham entree (which is OK, not great). And the drunken chocolate bundt cake is moist and luscious.

The bottom line: Whatever it is, it lasts for about three hours, it happens all around you and comes at you from every angle, you are amply provided with food and drink, and thoroughly entertained with more surprises than you can possibly imagine (Did I mention that they serve Pez candies during the salad course? Or that you get a fistful of salad dropped onto your plate from a performer’s hand wearing a surgical glove?). This show, which has landed here from another place (and perhaps another planet) is not dinner theater. What it is is anyone’s guess. But it’s wonderful. Energizing. Hilarious. Filling. Maybe brilliant.

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant is already partially sold out, so if you want to experience it you’d better hustle. Here’s a guarantee: You have never experienced anything like it. Unless, of course, your mom is a top chef and certifiably insane.

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant: Feast of Miracles

through December 19 at Cleveland Public Theatre,

6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727

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