Food impresario Rick Bayless and his writing colleagues Carl Menninger and Amy Rubenstein, along with skilled director David H. Bell, have whipped up quite a treat in the Petterino’s banquet space in the Loop with the unveiling of Windy City Playhouse’s latest offering: A Recipe for Disaster. In the tradition of interactive and immersive theater, this fast-paced 90 minute comedy was my first foray back into live theater since 2019 and it was particularly poignant since the plot centers around a restaurant staff’s worst nightmares.
The audience is cast as influencers at a hip new restaurant, the Contumacious Pig, famous for its pork dish. The show begins for us as we head down the bride-worthy circular stairway into a cushy waiting area where signature drinks named after characters in the play can help you pregame this madcap entertainment.
Hostess Shelley (played with sincere can-do attitude and high energy by Emma Jo Boyden) comes out and takes her position at the hostess stand in our midst. The Chef calls out sick because her ego is wounded as a Trib article highlighted her underling. The kitchen staff (the dynamic duo of Alex Morales as Iggy and Ben Page as Jude) must step up, but there is no pig! A competing restaurant has sent a spy, Boris, in a terrible wig (played with sardonic evil by Ian Maryfield). Vegan chic influencer Kiki (Carley Cornelius playing all the social media tropes) and her silverware-and-glass purloining sidekick Loreen (the very funny Kiera Bunch) insert themselves everywhere, and then the hapless health inspector, Clyde (a sincere Ryan Reilly) shows up to throw a monkey wrench in what was already going to be a tough night at the restaurant. The absolute star of the show, however, is Felix, who has almost no lines: his job at the bottom of the kitchen hierarchy is mostly to hide the non-USDA-stamped pig carcass delivered by Amazon. Daniel Trinidad plays Felix with physical comedy skills, knife juggling and perfect timing to add an element of kitchen acrobatics to this quickly moving show.
Along the way, Boris sabotages the soup with a bottle of Malort, Felix attempts to hide the pig everywhere from the ceiling fixtures to the potted plants, and Iggy tries to hold Jude together long enough to get the tasting menu to the awaiting influencers. Throughout these proceedings, audience members are served tasting portions of imaginative dishes (including the foul-tasting soup!) and three wine and cocktail pairings. Let the show know if you have food allergies or sensitivities: they will let you know what to skip. I don’t want to include spoilers but you should know that the menu does not play out exactly as listed on your printed piece. The food is very creative and even more original than the plot. Tip: if you want to watch how the food is made, request table E. Audience members can move around between courses to hear various conversations, returning to their seats for each course announced by a gong.
This show is a fabulous multi-sensory night of entertainment. It is also a humorous peek into the inner world of a field that has been hard hit by the pandemic so there is an implicit edge to this plot. So many of my favorite chef-owned spots did not survive the era of curbside pick-up; fine dining does not always translate to carry out. It seemed revelatory to be back in the theater and back in a dining establishment again and the triumph of the dessert (a chocolate avocado miracle) was, I hope, a sign of better days.
A Recipe for Disaster runs Wednesday-Sunday until December 26 at Petterino’s, 150 N. Dearborn (enter on Randolph Street). Tickets are $90-$130 and are available online or by calling 773-891-8985.
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