The empty warehouse echoes as attendees find a seat in the bleacher seating that flanks the small kitchen stage. The ensemble cast members are already hard at work preparing the very real ingredients for the meals prepared during the show, all while polling the audience for food allergies. Despite the venue being an expansive, empty warehouse made entirely of exposed brick, the kitchen is prepped for an evening of intimate conversation, audience interaction, and poignant (if sometimes flawed) allegorical messages.
The Food Show by the Neo-Futurists (written by Dan Kerr-Hobert) is a broad exploration of the various facets of food and how it fundamentally interacts with human nature in both the everyday and in the abstract. Set as a series of allegories, the production jumps between tales of historical significance (a musical number on the establishment of the FDA), personal endeavors (a flourishing roommate romance over a meal), and high concepts (human instinct to eat). The thematic through-line is true to the title – each one of these stories revolves around either an ensemble member preparing an onstage entree or a shared meal between a random audience participant and the cast. The range of themes on display here is commendable: privilege, love, introspection, and atrocity are all explored through food allegories and do a fantastic job of servicing the idea that food is intimately linked to the way we see ourselves and others. These heavy concepts are delivered through a blend of hilarious comedy, music, and crowd participation which ensures audience engagement from start to finish.
However, the sheer variety of the stories and delivery methods on display makes The Food Show run the risk of falling into the issue of being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The stories here are paced incredibly well; adequate set-up and care are given to setting the stage for each story but the magnitude of each story’s payoff fluctuates greatly between allegories. A cast member’s tale of being a picky eater starts as a comedic exploration of their hatred for cooking and blooms into a study of how their limited palette attributes to their fear of visiting foreign countries and broadening their horizons. Such great, focused stories overshadow ones that attempt to blend comedy and profundity in arguably incompatible ways. A cast member’s severed head having a dialogue about the very real contribution of livestock farming’s contribution to climate change falls flat as the audience seems unsure whether to laugh or be silent. The variety is appreciated for the sake of keeping the script fresh, but could benefit from a few small scene cuts to free up time for a deeper exploration of the themes presented in the stories.
Despite a few missteps in writing and over-use of variety, The Food Show redeems itself with masterful set design, lighting, and music. As previously mentioned, the food prepared in this show is entirely real and is shared with a few randomly selected audience members. However, the true genius of the stage direction is that there are no pauses between scenes thanks to highly choreographed lighting and prop changes. A mirror used to show the kitchen prep table quickly flips into a white backdrop to project a video feed; an old trunk used as a platform for a musical number has a table cloth thrown over it and is turned into French café seating. The music as well serves as both a fantastic augment to the stories as well as a welcome interlude between scenes – banjos, keys, drums and even French horns keep the audience captivated and emotionally invested.
The Food Show should be commended for its engaging blend of comedy, plethora of poignant messages, and expert stage direction. The ultimate enjoyment of the viewer will most likely depend on the ability to roll with the variety on display, but the stories and themes explored here are well worth the price of admission. And if you sit in the first few rows, be sure to come hungry.
Reviewed by Ryan Moore
The Food Show continues through September 2nd at Metropolitan Brewing. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheateInChicago's Review Round Up.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this review misgendered one of the performers. The pronouns have been corrected.