You art what you eat.
Third Rail Projects’ “Confection,” a site-specific slice of immersive theatre open to very limited audiences at the Folger Theatre this month, is many things. It’s a tour. It’s a lecture. It’s a dance performance. It’s a movement piece. It’s a food tasting. It is not in any way a traditional play, but it is one that you should strive to see.
‘Confection’ is worth seeing while you can. Like a good meal, you will never experience anything exactly like it again.
One of the several wonders of the piece is that it exists at all. The Folger Shakespeare Library is understandably protective of its Reading Rooms, generally only open to the public during the annual Shakespeare’s Birthday open house and on other limited occasions. I can only imagine how nervously the librarians and curators must have looked on when they saw what Third Rail, a New York-based troupe, had in mind.
The Folger commissioned director/choreographer Zach Morris and the Third Rail company to devise a piece about the societal and political impact of food to coincide with the current production of “Nell Gwynn” and the Library’s exhibition “First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas.” (Be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early so you can peruse this fascinating exhibit.) What the artists brought is 45 minutes of dancing on tabletops, choreographed movements in the stacks and on the staircases, and brief ruminations on comestibles in the late 17th century.
For the aristocrats, a meal was a performance in itself, the artists tell (and show) us. The production and presentation were at least as important as the food itself. A long table that marks the first and last stop on the tour is used to display just how much might be served, and how each dish and utensil had its own specific space among the hundreds.
The aristocrats craved sweet things, and after a walk down narrow hallways stocked with deliciously authentic model desserts, we are thousands of miles away in Barbados, where we learn where the sugar to sate them came from, and the human price of extracting it.
The audience is broken up early in the tour, and each grouping experiences “Confection” in a slightly different way. One may be a wealthy guest at the feast or instead relegated to look on from the rafters.
While “Confection” is a success as a whole, not all aspects of it are equally strong. The incredible costumes and props are a highlight — I found myself wishing for more time to closely study the intricate cakes and pies before being hurried on — and the movement elements are beautiful. The text of the piece, while informative and thought-provoking, at times took on an element of preciousness, delivered in hypnotic cadences.
Still, with just 38 performances in the entire run, and a maximum of 50 audience members allowable per show, “Confection” is worth seeing while you can. Like a good meal, you will never experience anything exactly like it again.
And yes, you get a treat at the end.
Running Time: 45 minutes.