You Are What You Eat: FEED at the 2016 Fringe Festival
Above Photo: Brett Ashley Robinson and Mary Tuomanen in FEED (photo by Tasha Doremus)
It might not always be considered as such, but food is a profoundly historical, political topic. The way we eat deeply informs the way we interact with our community and planet, the way we pass down traditions and recorded history, and of course, our own quality of life. Presented with the challenge of making a piece of theater that revolves around food, there are few companies in Philadelphia as well equipped as Applied Mechanics to tackle the job. Since their premiere in 2009, they’ve done much to solidify their reputation as an innovative, masterful creator of immersive theater that is as much an intricately crafted story as a lesson in civic engagement.
Their newest work, FEED, premieres in the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and is a brilliant example of their ability to finely weave multiple narratives together to create an entire world for their audiences to explore. Set in the Independence Foundation Gallery for Visual Art at the Painted Bride, it takes its audience on a journey through the past, present, and future of a society that seems pretty similar to our own, from the point of view of 3 people living at different points on the same timeline, uniting in the gallery’s second level, where the audience and characters come together several times throughout the show to eat together.
The cast is sparse compared to some of Applied Mechanics other work, but what they lack in numbers they more than make up for in ability to connect with the audience in a way that tells not only the story of their characters, but the entire society that surrounds them. Mary Tuomanen plays KRS, a scientist grappling with homesickness and a personal loss while abroad at a new research job at a foreign university. Thomas Choinacky plays LEIF, a motherly figure who talks in a vernacular composed of gestures, sounds, and sensations. Brett Robinson plays BESTBY, a Messiah-like figure who is coming to terms with no longer being wanted in the community she is trying to serve. Audiences decide who to follow and for how long, making every single person’s experience of the show unique.
Over the course of the show, the characters remain largely separate from one another, though they do come together at key moments, such as an impressive soundscape midway through the show, and of course, at the table in the upper levels. They vacillate between interacting with the audience and experiencing private, vulnerable moments. Periodically throughout the night, the characters would lead their audience upstairs and feed them. What they offered their audiences informed much of their characters and their histories. KRS’s experiments with mushrooms culminate in a taste test designed to be a clinical study exploring their use as an environmental restoration tool. BESTBY’s small private sabbath on a plastic tarp composed of spoonfuls of canned fruit salad reflect the scavenger society she lives in, having suffered a catastrophe that suggests KRS’ efforts in the past were unsuccessful. LEIF fills the space with the fragrance of spices and herbs, offering cinnamon tea to a lucky few audience members during a vulnerable moment for BESTBY.
For each of the characters, their journey culminates with a celebration of “Hygge,” a fictional holiday named after the Danish word for “good atmosphere and good company, coziness,” which is also a celebration of the dead. Every second and square inch of this show rewards closer examination. Each character in their own way invites the audience to be a part of their community, and uses food to express an innate desire for hearth, home, and love.
In examining how we eat and use food to remember our history, Applied Mechanics has once again proven that the personal is political, and left its audiences with full stomachs and full hearts.
Painted Bride Art Center
230 Vine St.
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