By Austin Yang
Fresh off of shaking and baking Off-Broadway audiences with their Love’s Labour’s Lost, Food of Love has teamed up with immersive theatre doyen Third Rail Projects for a new immersive staging of a Bard staple, stylized as Midsummer: A Banquet.
True to their redoubled efforts, this inimitable evening experience has bloomed with double the charm. Set designer Jason Simms has worked wonders transforming 827 Broadway into Café Fae, a fanciful retreat with a high ceiling and flanked by rows of illustrious wall sculptures, which lighting designer Deborah Constantine deftly employs in creating a dreamland-esque ambience.
Upon entry, the tables are already adorned with a rustic first course of various amuse-bouches, and a mason jar candle that will later offer much more than just lighting and atmosphere. The waitstaff are the supremely talented performing ensemble, clad in Tyler M. Holland’s versatile costumes, and already engaging the audience in friendly check-ups and pre-show ditties.
No expense has been spared on the handsome and delectable five-course tasting menu. With fresh market ingredients and names like “Forest Picnic” and “Fairy Kebabs”, food designer Emilie Baltz’s themed (and mostly V/GF!) dishes offer sweet and savory garnishes to the scenes in which they’re served. Baltz takes it to the next level: The show is, as she’d put it, “storytelling for the senses”. The Midsummer experience incorporates at least five.
That said, this neatly trimmed and brilliantly performed Midsummer often leaves little buffer time, and one is ocassionally left wondering whether it’s appropriate to eat during a scene or to give it undivided attention.
The performances warrant such. Under Zach Morris’s airtight direction and fluid choreography, eight incredible actors with strong comedic characterizations milked every beat of their onstage antics. If not only for standout performances from Adrienne Paquin (an unforgettable delivery of “O spite! O hell!”) and the highly emotive Caroline Amos, this staging also favors its women, placing them on higher ground to the men scrambling for their affection. Mention must be given, however, to Charles Osborne’s virtuosic and uproariously funny ass-making turn as Nick Bottom. Returning audiences from Love’s Labour’s Lost will already be familiar with his many-splendored bodily and vocal modulations.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream lends itself greatly to Food Of Love and Third Rail Projects’ artistic styles, beyond their strengths of antics and immersion. It is, in its woodland setting, thematically suited to their ability to make miraculously much with little. The design of Peter Quince’s troupe reflects visual representations of their respective careers, ranging from woven trickets on Bottom (weaver) to a belt of spoons on Tom Snout (tinker), which then double as instruments in their motley band. The actors, in triple to quadruple duty, transform seamlessly between characters and affect lightning-quick costume changes. The imaginative choreography wastes as little of its actors as it does of the space, shooting past pillars and tumbling over tables. Lastly, though I might’ve liked to see more actors of color on stage than Lauren F. Walker’s animated Puck and Joshua Gonzales’ zany Demetrius, I applaud the relatively non-traditional casting.
Music be the food of love, only at Cafe Fae. Play on!
Midsummer: A Banquet – by William Shakespeare
Director/Choreographer: Zach Morris
Scenic Design: Jason Simms | Costumes: Tyler M. Holland | Lighting: Deborah Constantine | Sound Design/Original Music: Sean Hagerty | Food Design: Emilie Baltz | Executive Chef: Jacob Rosette | PSM: Jack Cummins