Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
The performance collective RADIOHOLE serves a full meal onstage in their new work Now Serving: A Guide to Aesthetic Etiquette in Four Courses. Reminiscent of both Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party and Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’s 2003 play Omnium Gatherum, this “irreverent exploration of the American Dinner Party featuring Haute Vaginal Cuisine” is running at The Collapsable Hole in the Westbeth Artist Housing Complex. Tickets are available for either onstage table or gallery seating.
The evening begins with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the lobby as audience members wait for their numbers to be called. Upon entering the space, audience members are guided to their appropriate spaces —on stage for those who purchased table seating, into the audience for those who have peanut gallery seating. Both tiers of seating are offered food; those seated on stage have a full meal with wine, bread, soup, salad, main course, and dessert, while those in the peanut gallery have snacks reminiscent of baseball games: beer, popcorn, hotdogs, and Junior Mints. Three female hosts (Amanda Bender, Erin Douglass, Maggie Hoffman) guide their guests through the meal. Each course has some connection with the vagina or with pressures and expectations placed on women; there’s discussion of vaginal yeast in the bread course, of the policing of women’s speech during soup, and of female anatomy during dessert. Pepe the Frog (Eric Dyer) makes an appearance as a waiter. Kristin Worrall presents the dessert course as a pastry chef, while violinist Catherine McRae provides musical accompaniment as the diners finish their courses.
Now Serving is irreverent, relevant, and very, very funny. (Given the unapologetic focus on the female reproductive system, this might be one of the rare cases in which it makes sense to call something “hysterically funny.”) RADIOHOLE makes great use of the theatre with a long, narrow playing space that accommodates the onstage dinner table. Red wine is served from IV fluid bags hanging from the ceiling and the table is cleared with a conveyor belt; both of these things clearly evoke menstruation, especially as half-eaten bowls of borscht roll off the end of the table at the end of the course. Bender, Douglass, and Hoffman are all delightful as our hosts, evoking Emily Post while deconstructing the rules and restrictions that women place on themselves. The inclusion of a male performer as Pepe the Frog is a reminder that the patriarchy is never too far away, even in the safe womb of the dinner party.
While Now Serving is definitely fun, it is also not for all audiences. The press release warns, “You will get wet: You might get drenched.” This is not an idle threat or a joke about vaginas; folks sitting near the front of the peanut gallery are in the splash zone as unfinished soup rolls down the conveyor belt at the end of the course, so it is best to leave dry clean only garments in the closet when getting dressed for this. Those with dietary restrictions, especially gluten allergies or intolerance, might be most comfortable in the gallery, as folks on stage are expected to eat and bread is the first course. While the show is only sixty minutes, points where the gallery is waiting for those on stage to finish a course can feel a little long even with Catherine McRae’s excellent music. Kristin Worrall’s dessert course is the strongest course of the evening in large part because dessert is small and self-contained; the dinner guests can finish it fairly quickly without being rushed. On the whole, Now Serving is fun, thoughtful, and a welcome antidote to our current political climate.
Runs until 16 November 2019 | Photo Credit: Maria Baranova