Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Sobelle's Enticing, Gluttonous, Enlightening FOOD

Geoff Sobelle, exemplary waiter. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Geoff Sobelle taps into just every imaginable topic surrounding FOOD, the title of his latest theater work. These range from how city dwellers most often encounter it—in a restaurant, accompanied by wine—to its consumption by a gluttonous waiter after his shift, to the origin of wheat crops that have come to signify Big Ag and the ensuing destruction of the American landscape and diet. 

Sobelle is as polite as you’d expect a waiter to be in a fancy establishment, albeit with a 300-square foot table. He enlists those at the table (most of us sat in surrounding seats) to pour wine and read aloud from cues written in menu folios, or answer questions such as “what is your favorite diner food?,” and then magically produces said meal (meatloaf and mashed potatoes). After his shift, he consumes the leftovers and whatever else lies around—apples, raw eggs, tomatoes, salad, a steak, a fish, two bottles of wine, the leftover meatloaf, then cigarettes and money. It’s a pretty convincing act that leaves you wondering what trickery he used, because he simply can't have consumed all that!

Chandelier, recycling bottles and stuff. Photo: Susan Yung

In another trope of magic, he yanks off the enormous tablecloth (it sits beneath an elegant, tiered chandelier made of recycled items), revealing a plain of dirt. Shifting gears, he crawls around the dirt on all fours, plucking adorable little bison out of the dirt, moving them foot-by-foot around the plain in an expanding herd. Following a tiny tractor that self-drives across the field, sheafs of wheat grow. Sobelle plunges his arm deep into the earth and retracts it, covered with oil. Derricks and rigs pop up, model houses are placed willy-nilly by the diners from passed trays, and high-rises with interior lights emerge from the soil. 

Post-shift imbibing. Photo: Stephanie Berger

The bison are returned to the earth, now extinct, and Sobelle himself digs a plot and disappears into the ground—the final feat of magic. We’ve experienced nothing less than the history of America in a physical re-enactment, as well as the endgame of late-stage capitalism and gluttony in its rawest form. FOOD is the third in a trilogy presented at BAM, with previous shows based on hoarding (The Object Lesson) and the complexities of a domicile (HOME). 

It's also the most demanding for Sobelle himself, the key element  powering his entire extremely popular theatrical enterprise. One wonders long he can continue to throw body and soul into his works, but in the meantime, there's no one else like him.

FOOD, BAM Next Wave, BAM Fisher, Nov 2—18, 2023

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