Remember when your mother used to tell you not to eat with your hands and how unnatural it felt? And now, you’re all grown up and what feels unnatural is actually eating WITH your hands. Funny how that works, eh? Well if you want to take a trip back to your childhood, minus the nagging parents trying to instill manners on you, then the Tactile Dinner Experience might be just the thing for you. As part of this years Capital Fringe Festival, inter-disciplinary theatre company, Banished Productions, is putting on a 7-course theatrical “dinner” (I use quotation marks because if you show up hungry, you’ll leave that way) to mark the 100th Anniversary of Futurism, a movement from 1920s Italy basically rejecting all things conventional or antiquated. Or something or other. I was just there to eat with my hands and act like a kid again…
Upon entering the Arthur F. Flemming Center at 1426 9th St., NW, I saw a slew of people lined up in a hallway being draped in what looked to be lab coats by silent wait-staff. Each lab coat, which I later found out was to be referred to as a “pajama,” had some distinct characteristic unlike any other. Mine had green sleeves, the girl in front of me had little plastic eyeballs, my neighbor at “dinner” had cork shoulder pads. So right then and there you know you’re in for something “different.” One-by-one, the silent waitstaff whisk random people from the line and escort them into a room behind a curtain from which crazy noises eminate. Not going to lie, for a second I thought that perhaps KatieT had sent me to a nuthouse where I was going to BE dinner, rather than eat it. I even considered leaving, but the fact everyone else kept getting picked ahead of me built the suspense to the point where I just HAD to stick around. One person later commented that it was like being the last kid picked at dodgeball. Would ya look at that, ANOTHER flashback to childhood!
So we’re all seated in a big U shape at different tables – no rhyme or reason, at least that I could tell. Waitstaff/actors start coming by and making me “feel” my neighbors cork shoulder pads, and hold onto the sleeve of the girl across from me. Now, I’m not a germophobe and don’t like to think of myself as uptight, but when the lady up front says “there is audience participation, but you can participate as much or as little as you like,” I wasn’t thinking that I’d be feeling up other dudes I’ve never met before…perhaps Banished Productions could be a tad more descriptive up front.
Nonetheless, soon after the touching part, the first course of “Polyrhythmic Salad” came. The only way I can describe it is a salad served the way traditional Belgian Frites are served – in a cone-shaped wax paper on a stand. There’s a dude with a mustache on two tv screens barking orders at us in this authoritarian/out-of-his-mind tone that brings back those frightened “maybe I should leave” thoughts. But I stick around and follow orders: “eat your salad with one hand, while cranking the music box at the bottom with the other.” Music box? Huh? I look down and there’s a little mechanical music box. So as I’m eating my wilted mustard greens (they were damn strong – felt like I inhaled wasabi) with my right hand, I realize that I really have no hand-hand coordination whatsoever because my left hand can’t seem to play music whilst my right is shoving veggies in my face. Hmmm…Maybe that explains why gum falls out of my mouth when I walk too. While I’m eating, the wait staff are making the most horrendous noises – burps, punches, retching sounds, beeps, bops, boops, and a whole lot of other noise that sounds utterly mechanical. They are also walking around spritzing everyone with the second course: “Aural Sensations,” which was lemon-infused water. Like I said, not your traditional dinner…
Next the lights go out. Crazy video plays on the wall. Crazy dude on TV stops talking and some other crazy dude starts yelling shit in Italian. This goes on for a few minutes. I want my teddy bear…then lights go on and waiters are now flight attendants bringing out carts to serve us a third course of “Aerofood,” asking us if we want “meat or vegetable.” We’re encouraged to enjoy our meal in the sky and elevate our senses. I went with the meat, naturally, and when instructed to do so, I released the clothes pin that was keeping the balloon shut and squeezed the scent of roast beef right up my nose. Mmm…if there’s one thing a large, hungry man likes better than actual roast beef, it’s being teased by the simple smell of it. But again, if you anticipate a cool, different experience, rather than a satisfying dinner, you’ll actually enjoy yourself – it really is cool just how real the smell is. Turns out the scent comes from some perfume guy in Brooklyn named Christopher Brosius who makes perfumes entirely based on childhood memories. How appropriate…
Next up we’ve got the 4th course: “Magic Food”. They look like little candies that grandparents keep around their houses. We’re told that “even our waitstaff don’t know what’s in them.” Well THAT’s settling…the crazy dude starts talking about playing a game called “Marvelous Marinetti Mandates” (Marinetti is the Italian dude widely regarded as the most influential Futurist in history, in case you didn’t click link above). “Marvelous Marinettie Mandates that you…eat your magic food…shake your head from side-to-side…clap your hands…eat another piece of magic food!” It was a cross between I Spy with My Little Eye and Red Rover, Red Rover…I’m back in childhood again! The magic food itself, although it appeared to be candy, was actually quite the opposite. Most of the candy-esque shells crumbled to reveal oil or some other salty liquid. Very interesting. Then the waitstaff start doing this very mechanical dance while the crazy music escalates. I start getting scared again, but I’m getting into this a bit…
5th course, “Totalrice,” is placed in front of me and it’s a little pocket of something resting atop three lines of various powders on a piece of clear plexiglass. Read that again: three lines of various powders on a piece of clear plexiglass. My first thought: “so THAT’S how they came up with this show”…The pocket, which had the words “Manga (EAT ME)” on it, was risotto encased in a soy paper. The lines of powder? One was definitely parmesan cheese – the other two I was unable to pick out, probably because I was moping about not getting to actually eat any roast beef. Funny to see the reactions of people when they see paper with writing that says (EAT ME) on it: no one eats it. Everyone started peeling the paper apart and gnawing away at the risotto, this assclown included. I observed that one of my neighbors had eaten hers and I followed suit. The paper basically melted in my mouth – definitely cool!
The 2nd to last course consisted of a “Tactile Vegetable Garden,” which is pictured very first in this post (yeah, I took that picture…pretty gifted, eh?) Patrons were ordered to link arms with their neighbors and eat with their tongues. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to scoop up pieces of carrot, cucumber, and corn with just your tongue, but it’s fun to try. There was some salt and pepper thrown into the mix and it was actually flavorful. This method of eating reminds me of yet another childhood memory: remember when your mom told you to “slow down and chew your food?” Try eating without your hands…takes forever. The last course, an “Aperitivo,” consisted of waitstaff/actors asking if you cared for “coffee or tea” and then spritzing the scent of it just in front of your face – a little offputting, but the smell, again, was dead on.
Would I do this again? No. Am I glad I tried it once? Yeah, sure. In fact, I’ll be honest that I’ve never experienced anything like this before, and I doubt I will ever again, so in that sense it’s a “once-in-a-lifetime” kind of show. It was a laugh as much as it was a bit weird. The whole experience is absolutely contrary to what people would expect, but something tells me that’s what banished productions is going for – a show that reawakens the senses of its audience. They certainly managed to do that. I’d recommend trying this out if you have an open mind, are bored with the status quo of your day-to-day, and a full stomach.
Here are the details:
at the Arthur S. Flemming Center (1426 9th St NW)
Sat 07/11: 7p, 9:15p
Sun 07/12: 3p, 6:15p, 8:15p
Mon 07/13: 7:30p
Sun 07/19: 4p, 7:30p
R.S.V.P. or food-related concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: Liam Darmody