Photo by Matthew Wilson.
BOTTOM LINE: An interactive theatrical experience with food that invites guests to rub elbows with some of the greatest thinkers and artists of the early twentieth century as they celebrate the birthday of Henri Rousseau.
This is Not a Theatre Company is no stranger to avant-garde theatrical experiences. Their first production, Pool Play, took place in and around a public pool where they asked the audience to join the cast for a dip in the pool after the theatrical festivities were over. While there isn't a pool here, A Serious Banquet is just as exciting and innovative.
This event invites guests to attend the birthday party of Henri Rousseau which is being hosted by Pablo Picasso. Neither a biography of Picasso nor an art history lesson, guests step into the studio in Le Bateau-Lavoir in Bohemian Paris in 1908. As described in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, audience members get to wine and dine with actors portraying Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Max Jacob, Andre Salmon, Guillaume Apollinaire, Fernande Olivier, Marie Laurencin, Georges Braque, and many more. Cubism comes to life in this multi-sensory devised theatre experience which invites audience members to step into a cubist world and explore the world from a Cubist perspective. In other words, you can experience what is it like to dance a painting, hear a sculpture, and watch Picasso’s 1907 painting, "Les Demoiselles D'Avignon," come to life.
On the day of the party, I was awakened with an email from Pablo Picasso confirming my attendance to Henri's celebration. I was encouraged to dress in my most expressive duds and was given a dossier of the evening's guests as well as some back ground information on the era and art movement of the time. While it's not required reading, it does add some good information that might make the evening slightly more enjoyable.
Upon arriving at the party, I was greeted by a human personification of cubism. The Cube (Clara Francesca Pagone) is present the entire evening, commenting silently and ever so subtlety on the evening's events. I was then ushered into a large studio where people were milling about having wine and cheese and talking to the other party guests. The bartender, Claire Sinclair (Jeanine T. Abraham), informed me that she was an artist and that she would very much like Georges Braque to see some of her work. The seeds of interactive theatre had been set.
With drink in hand, I headed into the party where I met Mr. Braque as well as Alice B. Toklas (Miranda Kahn); Alice, Gertrude Stein's lover, gave me a rose to give to Gertude. Throughout the evening I painted on tiny canvases with Pablo Picasso (Ashley Wren Collins), taught one of the women from "Les Demoiselles D'Avignon" how to use silverware, and consoled a dejected Max Jacob (Vincent William Cooper, who brought just the right artistic flare and inner turmoil to Jacob). Ryan Feyk, who lends a sense of robust confidence and earthiness to Georges Braque, was also seated next to me and added a skilled sense of improvisation and character development to the evening. While I didn't get to interact with all of the cast members, it is clear that every member of this able ensemble is extremely committed to flushing out the richness of these complicated thinkers that reshaped the way we look at art and the world.
Don't let all the references of Cubist masters and influencers scare you. You don't have to know that much about art to enjoy A Serious Banquet. While it is an interactive dinner party, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had by being strictly a voyeur. The food is great, the wine is flowing, and the possibilities are endless to what you can experience with the sophomore offering of This Is Not A Theatre Company. Food (which is quite good) and drink are included with admission: risotto balls, salad, lentil tapenade, cheeses, and some delicious brownies. A Serious Banquet is definitely a dinner party that will leave a positive taste in your mouth and you will be more than satisfied that you attended.
(A Serious Banquet plays at New York Theatre Workshop, 83 East 4th Street, through June 19, 2014. (This is the "all ages" version of the show; the "21+" version recently finished performances at Judson Church). Remaining performances are Monday June 16, Wednesday June 18, and Thursday June 19, all at 8 PM. Tickets are $60 (including dinner, dessert, and drink) and are available at https://www.artful.ly/this-is-not-a-theatre-company. For more info visit www.thisisnotatheatrecompany.com.)