nytheatre.com review by Adam R. Burnett
July 13, 2012
After we have exhausted all other forms of enjoyment and pleasure, including music and sex, and with so much time to waste, we have finally arrived at the perversion of food. I know a number of people who subscribe to this definition of "foodie": epicureans of the best and most interesting gourmet foods, who will go out of their way, exhausting time and energy, to eat fresher, to have the best cut of meat, and talk expertly on the art of preparation. There is a moral depravity in here—and it's one we've seen before. We are never satisfied, we may be full but are still hungry and this seems to be the defining feature of a culture where food has become an art.
This is where writer/director Andrew Ondrejcak's Feast lives, at the fall of Babylon and the final meal of a king and his concubines. And over the course of an hour the entirety of western civilization's ubiquitous phrases and gestures are belched out, farted upon, growled through, and slurped up in a linguistic buffet that fittingly reaches the height of arias. The final meal that Ondrejcak has created is at the very peak of the tower of Babel, where humanity has been disabled by its preoccupations with culture and language. Accompanied by Handel's Belshazzar, which serves as a reoccurring interlude between courses, the King's concubines devour, smacking their mouths and filling themselves up with linguistic profundities: the poetry of misunderstanding and the history of our lexicon, which has become, inevitably, abused shorthand for everything and nothing. As one of the Concubines says, "One moment you're talking about boobies and the next it's Aeschylus." And so runs the course of the feast: Taking wide swings at the things we can't escape talking about because we simultaneously don't understand them and are too familiar.
What Ondrejcak does so adeptly here is to make what could be a cold, distanced theatrical experience into something that has breath and warmth. A particular prop placed among the audience pre-show immediately keys us into this, a brilliant move that garners our trust and willingness to go with Ondrejcak and his actors.
The cast plays dozens of roles simultaneously and are able to wiggle comfortably into the space between performance and theatre (a space/practice we need to find a better way to talk about). Okwui Okpokwasili, as the King, reigns casually over the dinner table and her easy gaze rests upon the audience, never breaking. Her Concubines—Jenn Dees, Cara Francis, Yuki Kawahisa, and Jason Robert Winfield—are sharp and flexible, excavating musicality and complexity of language with surprising, terrifying and hysterical results. Francis especially, who is one of the most thrilling performers to currently watch in the downtown scene, makes another mark here as a deft and unpretentious performer. And I must mention Peter Cullen, making his stage debut as The Butcher, who otherwise has served as the head priest at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Carroll Gardens for 25 years.
The stage design is constructed by architects Dominic and Chris Leong who, along with lighting designer Scott Bolman, use the single set piece to reduce the open black space of the Incubator. The exercise in specificity and minimalism offers the space over to the material and the performers and it's a choice that uncompromisingly fixes our enquiry on the last supper.
I'd not been exposed to Ondrejcak's previous work, but I never felt like I was late to the game. I'll be certain not to miss anything he does in the future.
It is the constant unfortunate nature of the economy of art-making that Feast will only have one more week in its run, so please clear your schedule and witness this group of artists with a shared ethos who know exactly what they're doing—which is a rarity, more often than it ought to be.