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Sideways: The Experience is the latest show to pair live entertainment with eating and imbibing
Dinner theatre used to mean audiences enjoyed a meal while watching a show. But over the past few years, a handful of adventurous New York productions have been using food to enhance their stage stories.
While The Imbible and Drunk Shakespeare have long infused their shows with alcohol, immersive masters Third Rail Projects went the whole hog last summer, partnering with Food of Love Productions for Midsummer: A Banquet, an environmental staging of Shakespeare's romantic comedy with the cast serving a multi-course tasting menu to spectators. There were many sublime interactions, such as when the lovers, in a particularly sensual moment, doled out fresh fruit carefully wrapped in cloth napkins. As the juice from the plump peaches ran down all our chins, I looked around the room and realized how breaking bread bonds us to one another.
Third Rail Projects' co-artistic director Zach Morris explains, "theatrical practices were born out of deeply embodied physical rituals in which people were dancing and singing and getting drunk sometimes," so the company's mission is to hearken back to those "multisensory experiences." That sense of connection—to the action and to each other—was the point. As Victoria Rae Sook, the founder of Food of Love, puts it: "Food, like theatre, brings people together."
That notion is currently on the menu at Peccadillo Theater Company's Sideways: The Experience, playing at the Theatre at St. Clement's. Inspired by Rex Pickett's novel-turned-movie of the same name about Miles (Brian Ray Norris) and Jack (Gil Brady), two pals who love wine and women, the show is complemented by beverages from WineAccess.com and gourmet dishes by chef Mary Giuliani.
Admittedly, Sideways: The Experience feels a bit more like traditional dinner theatre, since audiences indulge before the performance starts. But the experience puts theatregoers in the ideal mindset for the BFFs' trip through California wine country.
A light body Pinot Noir with fruity notes ("you can't have Sideways without Pinot Noir," says director Dan Wackerman) goes with Giuliani's duck confit pot pie with fig sauce, while pasta doughnuts cooked in red wine are served with short rib on top.
Giuliani and WineAccess.com's Vanessa Conlin worked together to create the pairings. They both have backgrounds in the performing arts—Conlin in music and Giuliani in acting—and Sideways: The Experience has allowed them to show how theatrical a multi-course meal can be.
Giuliani says her dishes actually reflect the characters. "I can see Miles and Jack in the black truffle honey grilled cheese we serve," she says. "It's Jack, the everyday guy, eating the grilled cheese, but Miles places the black truffle honey on top, so it's both of them in one bite."
While there's no Department of Health restaurant rating hanging on the theatre door, the NYC agency still imposes strict rules. Wackerman says audience safety is of the utmost importance and that each performance of Sideways: The Experience is a catered event, with all food prepared in Giuliani's kitchen in Sunnyside before being delivered to the venue.
Productions like Sideways: The Experience and Midsummer: A Banquet prove that audience don't have to settle for the usual subdued theatre snacks. But if you find yourself at a more traditional production, Conlin says opt for champagne. "Those bubbles make everything feel like a celebration and go surprisingly well with popcorn!"
TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for Sideways: The Experience but note that preshow dining is not included! Go here to browse our current offers.
Jose Solís is a NY-based writer and editor who's been covering theatre and film professionally since 2003. He is a member of the Drama Desk. Follow him at @josesolismayen. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Brian Ray Norris and Gil Brady in Sideways: The Experience. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.