Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Recent Theater

In spite of its title, Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant is not avant garde at all. It's a whole lot of fun, exceedingly well-performed, cleverly conceived and it comes with a good meal and copious amounts of wine... but for those of you who shun the abstract, the experimental—the weird—set your minds to rest: this is the Marx Brothers, not Marcel Duchamp. The evening is a sort of performance grab bag with short skits—some of which are loosely connected to a through line about a pregnancy—silly songs and dances, and bits of schtick in which the performers bring audience members into their act. Unless you're hopelessly confused by Saturday Night Live, you won't have any problems keeping up with anything here.

We received a few brief instructions from the cast in the form of a song—which, at the Ohio Theater, began with the performers singing and playing instruments across Wooster Street while we watched them from the loading dock doors. Among other things, they informed us that the performers are not waiters, that there are no substitutions on the menu and that everyone must share with their table mates. We were then ushered into the dining room/theater where tables were lined up on what would ordinarily be the stage and performances spaces had been created on either end of the space. At each table were bottles of wine (pretty decent stuff, too), baguettes and a plate of hors d'oeuvres that we all shared. There were four dinner courses: a cold pear soup (delicious), a salad (pretty good), an entree (chopped pork sandwich for omnivores or mushroom for vegetarians, also pretty good) and an old fashioned banana pudding for dessert (with 'Nilla wafers—impossible screw that up!).

The cast is all wildly funny and their performances are all well-crafted. I suppose one might say that the avant garde part of this work is the characters that the actors have created: most of them would probably fit in just fine with the fine folks of Twin Peaks. The program only offers names and bios of their onstage personae so I can't give a shout out to an actor but I will say that the all of central characters have powerful singing voices and exceptional comic timing. If you missed this latest installment, they're coming to Joe's Pub October 12 (the meal will not be made by the performers, sadly, but I'm sure it'll still be loads of fun).

Catherine was telling me that Conni's Avante Garde Restaurant is one of the seven recipients of support from The Field's Economic Revitalization for Performing Artists program, which is helping the artists find ways to make their work more self-sustaining (read: less reliant on grants and giving, a laudable goal). Conni's definitely has that potential: the four-course dinner (including wine) and tickets is $50 which, in NYC, is a pretty good deal. Our friend, Kristin, said they were looking into ways of franchising the performance and I think that would be a great idea: I could see this being the kind of resource for these artists that Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind seems to have been for the Neofuturists.

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