We are sitting in the lobby of the Arthur Flemming Senior Citizens Center on a sweltering Sunday night, waiting for dinner. Of course, there is a wait at many fine dining establishments, but this is a little different. For one thing, we’re all sitting on chairs which are placed on an incline. For another, we are all wearing ridiculous plastic jackets, which, we are told, are actually pajamas. For a third, the wait staff appears to be composed of silent, goose-stepping automatons. And – here is another thing. We are about to be served a seven-course meal. But some of those courses are only to be smelled. And other courses consist solely of somebody jabbering at us incomprehensibly on television (which, come to think of it, was what my dinner was frequently like before I got married.)
Welcome to the evening meal as conceived by the Futurists, a 1930s-era Italian movement dedicated to replacing eating with art. For the futurists, and particularly for F.T. Marinetti (here represented by Ken Hayes), the pleasure of eating could be experienced through senses other than that of taste. So, for example, the essence of a meal could be conveyed over the radio, using radio waves. And there was no flavor so good that it could not be improved by adding a little…steel.
Marinetti was a big advocate of the concept that “men think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink.” So his great campaign was against pasta, which, he assured his followers, would promote “sentimentality” and “irony” and, worse “sentimental irony.” He was also an enemy of satiety, which he believed contributed to…oh, well, really, who cares?
I must say he seemed to be in the wrong time and place to make that argument. I mean, asking Italians to give up their pasta would be like asking Americans to give up their guns…wait a minute. Is it possible that this was – a little joke?
Well, banished? productions sure plays it as though it is. From the first course, in which we are obliged to eat a tiny salad while playing a tiny music box, to the last, where the wait staff sprays coffee or tea flavors into our mouths, the company imbues this incredibly absurd idea with high playfulness. When we are not feeling the special features of each others’ “pajamas”, or playing a variety of “Simon Sez” with Marinetti’s image on the TV screen, we are watching the wait staff do a frenzied, Devo-style dance to a 1930’s version of technopop. (Chorographers Carrie Monger and Melissa Kradman are swell choreographers; they join Wong, Williams, Producer Niell DuVal, Levia Lew, Emma Campbell, Stephanie Davia, Otis Ramsey-Zöe, and Jessica Seo as the dancing waitstaff).
And if the final vision is a video of pasta on the march, captured from history by videographers Emmett Williams – and I’m not saying it is – what could be more fun than that?
It’s been a long wait since banished? did its last appearance in the Fringe – Pablo Picasso’s Desire Caught by the Tail, in 2006, but it was worth it. Unless you’re one of those snootyfaces who can’t bear the thought of picking up food with your fingers, or sticking your face into a plateful of vegetables and chowing down like a horse, you ought to come to this thing, and have some silly fun.
Just make sure you have dinner first.
No steel is used in the production of this meal.
Conceived and Directed by Carmen C. Wong.
Produced by banished? productions and Niell DuVal
Chef: Samantha Vick-McGill
Sous-chef: Josh Hermias
Reviewed by Tim Treanor