Playwright: Dan Kerr-Hobert, Caitlin Stainken and the ensemble. At: The Neo-Futurists at the Metropolitan Brewery, 3031 N. Rockwell St. Tickets: $10-$25. Runs through: Sept. 2
The four necessities required by human beings for survival are air, water, food and shelter. On this occasion, the Neo-Futurists have forsaken their Andersonville digs to set up shop in the Metropolitan Brewery's future Avondale facility, where they can cook as they chat with us about the meaning of what we eat.
The agenda covers such historical milestones as Harvey Washington Wiley's "Poison Squad" and how it exposed the dangers of adulterants in food processing to found the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Our friendly lecturers also introduce provocative questions regarding the ethics of our food choices, recounting grotesque tales of culinary atrocities like "ortolans" ( songbirds roasted and consumed whole ), in turn leading to a general discussion of food source denial and artificial nutritional substitutes ( notably, the ominously named "Soylent" ) rejecting the concept of food altogether. Another thread begins with Bilal Dardai weighing his Islamic faith's dietary restrictions against his son's food allergies, then, after observing that a hungry child is an angry child, concluding with his speculations on a future crippled by famine arising from climate change.
Don't come expecting a panel of toques blancs talking heads, though. Furnishings for the free-standing kitchen assembled in the brick-walled room include a large aquarium containing a live fish who is fed its own dinner during the course of the evening. ( Before preparing to grill a salmon fillet, Oliver Camacho declared, "Now we're going to eat fish!"an announcement bringing forth a collective shout of protest from the audience. ) Additional visual interest is contributed by the operation of a hand-cranked butter churn fashioned from a bicycle axle and chainring, two boxed lunches munched playground-style by Kyla Sims and an audience volunteer, along with the music of a street orchestra featuring harness-drumming by Spencer Meeks and muscular French Horn by the aforementioned Sims.
Self-consciousness being a cornerstone of the Neo-Futurist manifesto, the actors share personal anecdotes of food employed as seduction, consolation and filial myth. Most of these reflect secure childhoods, though mention is made of "food deserts" and regions of nourishment restricted by circumstance. Indeed, early in the show, a tube-and-beaker sculpture illustrates, in precise detail, how our bodies perish when deprived of the precious commodity under scrutiny, lest we trivialize its importance.