Saturday, December 03, 2011

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant

CONNI’S AVANT GARDE RESTAURANT, back by audience demand, at CPT

It’s dinner and theatre, but not traditional dinner theatre. It’s a play, but not a play. It’s avant garde, but not avant garde. There is male nude streaking and lots of references to various body parts, but it isn’t raunchy or lewd. It’s ad-libbed, but scripted. What is it? It’s one hell of a good time! It’s CONNIE’S AVANT GARDE RESTAURANT, now being performed at Cleveland Public Theatre.

The inspiration for this evening of bizarre, delightful, and a little thought provoking theatricality, was supposedly brought about by the accidental sighting by the cast of a touring Shakespeare company with a sign over an abandoned diner in a small town where they were performing. It read, “Conni’s Restaurant.” The group, bored, and in a creative mood, started to fantasize about what it would be like if they owned and operated such an establishment. Voilá, the inspiration for the mayhem that presently fills the flexible CPT main theatre.

As you walk into the lobby, you are met by a number of “nurses” who take your coat (don’t worry, you’ll get it back), costumed performers, hors d’oeuvres and wine. You get to chose your name for the night. You can be “Not so Tiny Tim,” “The Abdominal Snowman,” “Sweet Child of Wine,” or something as mundane as “Nice.” That’s your i. d. for the rest of the evening.

During the cocktail party you are entertained by the performing troop, who sing, emote and serve. A minor incident requires a doctor, who is whisked away into the bowels of the theatre. You are tempted by performance tidbits of what is to come and exposed to who is going to present it.

You are ushered into a banquet hall decorated with chandeliers made of plastic champagne glasses and utensils. Tables of 8 are set with “fine” plastic dishes and silverware. There is an operating kitchen, where much of your “gourmet” dinner will be prepared by a “chef.” (The quote marks are very relevant!) You self-seat, meet your table mates.

Then all hell breaks loose. The “doctor” charges through the audience, sans clothing. During the next four hours there is continuous eating (of surprisingly tasty food), entertainment and mayhem. The cast continues to remind you, through a series of elaborate vignettes and songs, that the evening is devoted to “the ongoing celebration of the work of Conni Convergence, the beloved (fictional) icon of stage and screen."

As the evening proceeds, members of the audience are involved in contests, interactions with the performers, viewing of a baby being transferred from the insides of one woman to another (I kid you not!). There’s a ballet interlude by a pregnant ballerina interpreting The Black Swan. There’s the shooting of a deer, which then is transformed before your very eyes into a salad (well, not really). You are entertained by the company’s interpretation of Hans Christian Anderson’s THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL. You’ll learn the secrets of the rhythm method of acting. Then there’s the “Dance of the Kitchen Utensils” and the making of an erotic fruit salad.

I could go on, but why ruin the experience for those who are going to partake?

Capsule judgement: For the non-up tight, those willing to let lose and go with the chaotic and often hysterical flow, CONNI’S AVANT-GARDE RESTAURANT is a hoot. This is not your traditional theatre production. It is one evening of unbridled fun and mayhem.