Rick Bayless in Cascabel
Written by Heidi Stillman, Tony Hernandez
An evening of decadent escapism that will leave you sated with joy
|Lookingglass Theatre presents|
|Rick Bayless in Cascabel|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Food and sex. I defy anyone to come up with a more sure-fire foundation for an evening’s entertainment. Of course, if either is mediocre, there’s joy in neither. But with Lookingglass Theatre’s deliciously sensual Rick Bayless in Cascabel, the cuisine is absolutely inspired and the ambiance is as lush with sensory pleasures. Starring superchef Rick Bayless (and his food), Cascabel is to traditional dinner theater as (three star Michelin-rated) restaurant grade sushi is to Chicken of the Sea. It successfully captures the intersection of sensory pleasures, providing an evening of indulgent escapism that will leave you utterly joyful.
The logistics alone are a formidable achievement. Co-created by Bayless, Tony Hernandez and Heidi Stillman, Cascabel incorporates the actual eating (and serving) of a scrumptious meal right into the dramatic plot. And while that plot is admittedly rather thin, it is also completely charming and – thanks to the world class circus artistry – carries all the tension of a net-less high wire act wherein instead of a net, the wire walker cavorts above dining tables filled with patrons ecstatically partaking of unearthly fine ceviche and prime rib basking in a molè sauce that’s wholly magical.
The evening starts in the lobby, with a perfectly concocted margarita and several heavenly appetizers that (literally) whet the appetite for the delights to come. Entering the Lookingglass space, the audience is transported to a 1940s Mexican restaurant: long trestle tables surrounding the stage and a tantalizing banana-leaf-wrapped package waiting at every place. Bayless is in the cantina’s kitchen ,wielding a knife with balletic grace and precision as he minces vegetables like a virtuoso performing an intricate Bach cantata. We learn that he is the restaurant’s new cook, and that since his arrival, all manner of strange and wonderful things have been happening. Thus directors Stillman and Hernandez have set the stage for the visually sumptuous and extraordinary circus feats to come.
If you are a fan of Lookingglass’s signature stunts of aerial wonder and almost unimaginable grace, you’ll be smiling from start to finish of Cascabel. Alexandra Pivaral performs a bathtub contortion act that is breathtaking in its shockingly uber-limbed fluidity. Dangling from a chandelier and soaring through all manner of airborne acrobatics, Lindsey Noel Whiting radiates the impish, playful spirit of a young woman intoxicated into wonderment by blush of first love. And on the highwire, Hernandez is simply thrilling, changing his clothes while teetering above the patrons below.
There are clowns here as well, but – thankfully – not the red-nosed cliches of most circus acts. In Cascabel, the comedy comes in the form of the restaurant’s gardeners (real-life husband and wife Jonathan Taylor and Anne Goldmann), an earthy pair who do things with bananas (not what you’re thinking) that are as amazing as they are laugh-out-loud funny. Orchestrating the proceedings is Jesse Perez as a maitre d’ whose rhapsodic enthusiasm for the food (and the free-wheeling spirit of the restaurant) is giddily contagious.
Still, for all the astonishing shenanigans chez Cascabel, the restaurant’s black-clad owner (Chiara Mangiameli) remains a portrait of bitter sadness, a senora haunted by a lost love and a lost molè recipe that transformed her world from one of lush, flamenco-tinged ecstasy to a one of introverted, dark loneliness. The key to Señora’s release from her emotional prison rests (of course) with the mysterious Cook and his magical molè. Will Cook eventually release Señora? Did Bayless rule supreme over Top Chef?
Whether Bayless has a future as an actor is almost beside the point. He’s an understated yet totally pleasing presence on stage, emanating quietly intense charisma as he intently slices and dices his way through the story. He is also a fine dancer, as becomes evident in a final scene of kinetic happiness that’ll have you tapping your feet and grinning like the proverbial cat who just swallowed the canary – or a human who just swallowed the best molè ever created on planet earth. Should the restaurant thing not work out, Bayless surely has a future on Dancing with the Stars.
Cascabel is escapist fare, to be sure. It is also an escape well-worth indulging in. It is a glorious party from sun-dried tomato guacamole to blood-orange birthday cake. Some fine dining experiences err on the side of presentation, with waitstaff delivering dishes that are taller than they are wide, nestled on the likes of lavender pillows and served with stern and complex instructions on precisely how they are to be enjoyed. Cascabel maintains the deliciousness while dispensing with the pretentiousness. The piece succeeds in making food into theater, and making that theater great fun. It will also leave you in a gleefully celebratory mood. And isn’t that, in the end, what fine dining is all about?
Cascabel continues through April 29th at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave., (map), with performances Tuesdays-Saturdays at 7pm, Sundays 5pm. Tickets are $225-$250, and are available by phone (312-337-0665) or online at PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at LookingglassTheatre.org.
All photos by Sean Williams
Rick Bayless (Cook), Tony Hernandez (Houseboy), Thomas J. Cox (Suitor), Carlos Basile (Musician), Nicolas Besnard (Solitary Traveler), Shenea Booth (Solitary Traveler), Anne Goldmann (Gardener’s Wife), Chiara Mangiameli (Señora), Lindsey Noel Whiting (Daughter), Jesse Perez (Maitre’D), Alexandra Pivaral (Bathing Chica), Jonathan Taylor (Gardener).
behind the scenes
Rick Bayless (Co-Creator); Tony Hernandez (Co-Creator/Co- Director); Heidi Stillman (Co-Creator/Co-Director); Andre Pluess and Rick Sims (Co-Composers and Sound Designers); Mara Blumenfield and Lijana Wallenda Hernandez (Co-Costume Designers); Brian Bembridge (Set, Lighting); Maria DeFabo (props); Lee Brausell (Rigging Designer), Emilee Peterson (choreography), Rose Marie Packer (stage manager), Sean Williams (photos)