Playwright Celine Song uses a meatless world as a meaty metaphor.
Aristocratic hostess Wendy gets a lot of inspiration from sitting on the toilet. She lives in a post-meat apocalypse in Celine Song’s grippingly voyeuristic—if a bit meandering and sensational—The Feast, where there’s no bacon, steak or chicken fingers. With no meat available, Wendy admits it’s on the john that she veers into hypothetical thoughts of sautéing her own Yorkshire Terrier; even more, it’s there that she ponders the limits of eating a fellow human. This cannibalistic imagery marks a zany and screwball production that kicks off Red Theater’s season-long residency at the Den Theatre.
And yet all seems polite even before the production begins: As you enter into the theater, you pass slightly through the set, designed for a posh dinner party at Wendy’s (Alejandra Vivanco) home. (Mike Mroch designed the cavernous dining room.) Classical music plays in the background, and Wendy’s three guests—Sam (Shelby Garrett), Rhett (Carl Wisniewski) and Xander (Henry Greenberg)—are already seated, drinking red wine and beckoning Wendy’s butler (Pavi Proczko) for refills. The show begins and, as conjured by director Gage Wallace, their conventions of human propriety give way to an atavistic take on carnivorous desire, sexual objectification and salivating gluttony while they wait for Wendy’s husband, Francis (Ricky Quintana), to come home to start dinner.
Song’s text intersperses impolite dinner conversation (topics include mice euthanasia, brain surgery and an exotic affair) with madcap break-the-fourth-wall moments, revealing the guests’ eccentricities. In truth, this black comedy’s premise feels a tad derivative: The playwright leans on the subtext that underneath the veneer of civilized society lies an eternal brute, rendered here with cannibalistic tendencies. Still, Wallace’s ensemble delivers convincing performances of snowballing insanity as the evening unfolds, and his creative team contributes to the party’s hallucinatory mood. (John “Smooch” Medina designed the psychodynamic lighting, and actor Proczko composed the eerie music.) The show would be as sharp as a steak knife if not for Song’s overstretched ending, leaving you feeling full from this feast but on the verge of being bloated.
Red Theater Chicago at the Den Theatre. By Celine Song. Directed by Gage Wallace. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.