Cuisine & Confessions: circus and food and the very heart of human existence
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Alexandre Galliez
The concept of "dinner and a show" gets expanded into the most athletic and emotional kitchen party possible in Cuisine & Confessions. Memories related to kitchens - evoking childhood and family in all their nostalgia and horror - trigger acrobatics, confessionals, gags, dance numbers and sheer wonder. And there is food - cooked in a magnificent Martha Stewart-wet-dream of a set that actually functions as a kitchen - that is served once the show ends.
The intimacy of dining around a table with family and friends is recreated in the cavernous Princess of Wales Theatre by an engaging cast who radiate sincerity and comic charm. Usually audience participation feels like pandering or lecturing, but the Cuisine & Confessions cast wander off the stage in search of tasters, love objects, coffee drinkers, egg tossers, kitchen knife targets and vegetable slicers, it is inviting, safe and much coveted.
I loathe interacting with performers but when Matias Plaul turned his mega-watt smile in my direction for a comic bit, I stumbled to respond out of eagerness and, admittedly, being distracted and dazzled by his bulging biceps. And when the charming Anna Kichtchenko singled me out for an invitation to join the cast on stage, I was crushed when she noticed my notebook and pen, and deadpanned, "Sorry no. You are writing about us." The spell that Cuisine & Confessions casts is very powerful to conjure such aberrant emotions out of me.
It is the emotional strength of the storytelling that makes Cuisine & Confessions unique. Instead of spectacle, though the circus performances are quite extraordinary, there is a search for individual truth that becomes a universal experience. Melvin Diggs talks of his absent father leading into a hoops act with Sidney Bateman that is not only athletic but a distillation of the Black Lives Matter manifesto. It communicates more than words ever could. A lesser show would never have recovered from such a gut punch opening, an appetizer that should have overpowered the meal to come.
Kichtchenko performs an aerial silk number with gingham that comments on motherhood, memory and the death-defying act of familial love. Sexpot Nella Niva goes from childhood exuberance to graceful old age in a dance/acrobatic number that is hilarious and heartbreaking. A one-night stand with an unexpected breakfast in bed becomes, set to an acoustic and unexpectedly moving version of "You're the One That I Want" from Grease, a highly erotic ode to pansexualism and the futility of gender absolutes. Pablo Pramparo juggles giant utensils to prove we all can cook, and the sexy Nelson Caillard, who has previously been inarticulate comic relief, expresses himself through acrobatics with agile clarity.
The climax, other than the group number dusted with flour and the communal meal, belongs to Plaul. His childhood tale, again of an absent father, is punctuated by Chinese pole acrobatics that not only thrill with their sheer audacity and fearlessness, but also explain his motivation to perform, to risk life and limb, and just what those strong massive arms can do. It is heart-stopping both as circus and as soul-baring.
This circus, created by The 7 Fingers/Les 7 Doigts, places the individuals and their memories centerstage, the overarching theme is ramshackle and ephemeral, the details are the importance. You will be entertained, laugh many times and experience the adrenaline rushes a good circus provides, but the feeling one is left with is of nostalgia, of a good meal, of great company. It is a deep warmth that permeates as sweetly as the smell of the banana bread baking in the onstage oven. It is dinner and a show not to be missed.
Cuisine & Confessions continues until Sun, Dec 4 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St W. mirvish.com