Friday, December 2, 2011

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant, Cleveland Public Theatre

(Mrs. Robinson, about to do things with an electric mixer that would make Betty Crocker faint face-first into her apple cobbler.)

Yes, it has landed again: the weirdest, tastiest and most depraved group dining experience since Caligula stopped serving piping hot virgins to his dinner guests.

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant, now at Cleveland Public Theatre, is back for its second year of elegantly calibrated insanity. It’s a show accompanied by a five-course dinner served by nine actors, but that doesn’t come close to describing the overall impact of this experience.

This year there are a couple new personnel additions to the Conni cabal. But clearly, no one among the returning cast has mellowed in the past 12 months. And that's a good thing.

The New York City-based performing company comes in to provide this crazed concoction, presenting a volley of set pieces interspersed with continuous interaction with the audience.

If you like up close and personal theater, this is just the ticket. On opening night, Mrs. Robinson (a male British rocker) swapped pants with a female patron. And that probably isn’t the most intimate exchange between audience and cast that took place. (What happens in Conni’s Restaurant, yadda yadda…)

No actors are identified by their actual names in the program, and every audience member is invited to choose a fake name-tag (ie. “Not-So-Tiny Tim,” etc.) that protects their identity as well. With anonymity firmly in place, everyone can just relax and plug into the subversive energy of this four hour wack-fest.

Songs are performed, sung particularly well by the exotic-looking Mr. X and restaurant general manager Sue James (probably not her real name, but who knows?). She also does a mean "dance of the seven kitchen utensils."

Each course of food is introduced via one form of hilarious mock-pageantry or another, then served family-style at long tables. The grub itself, cooked on the premises, ranges from wonderful (curried butternut squash soup) to filling (thick slabs of turkey with cranberry compote). Also served are foccacia appetizers topped with ricotta, honey and pumpkin seeds; a roasted brussels sprouts salad; side dishes of mashed potatoes and sugared carrots; and a drunken chocolate bundt cake for dessert.

In between the noshing, a pregnancy is transferred from one young woman to another, a pants-less doctor and his volley of nurses provide questionable medical assistance, and a good ol’ boy bartender runs a “Bus Your Table” contest where customers compete to win a champagne-drenched “palate cleansing” interlude. Yeah, don't ask.

Frankly, there are far too many elements in this borderline psychotic extravaganza to enumerate here. Suffice to say you have never experienced anything like it. You will laugh, except when your jaw is hanging agape in amazement. And you will not leave hungry--for food (taking seconds are encouraged), or for wine (three bottles allocated for each ten-person table), or for an ample quota of certifiable strangeness.

And once you do attend, you will pine for the return of CAGR next year like a three-year-old waiting for Santa Claus.

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant

Through December 18 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727

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