Playwright and theater chef Roberto Farid Karimi gives the idea of dinner and a show a mouth-watering new twist in "¡Viva la Soul Power!"
His charming production, which had its savory opening Thursday at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, combines dramatic episodes about restaurant workers with a multi-course meal in a gallery featuring a Day of the Dead exhibit.
"Soul Power" is literally and figuratively delicious, with unexpected wit and levity drawn from our political discourse. This highly recommended show, which has a limited audience capacity, also has moving moments of toasting; we call out the name of a dearly departed and yell "presente!" then drink.
Often, at the theater, the notion of "shared stories" is in fact a one-way communication, even as audiences are increasingly getting chances to "talk back" at post-play discussions.
"Soul Power" is different. The audience sits at random tables, their diversity mirroring that of the cast. At my table, patrons hailed from Argentina, southeast Asia, Chicago and Golden Valley.
Everyone is asked to remember a favorite comfort food from a departed family member. This may sound like a speed-dating icebreaker, but it drew us together.
Karimi, whose stage name is Mero Cocinero, is joined by a beguiling cast of actors, singers and performers for the communitarian evening. There is Leigha Horton, who plays an earnest University of Minnesota nutritionist with a weakness. She likes to do puppet shows.
The cast also includes Saymoukda D. Vongsay as Comrade Anatta, Bobby Wilson as Native American homeland security expert William LeSeur, and Eric "Pogi" Sumangil as Comrade Gusto, an ex-soldier in camouflage who currently slings a musical instrument as a weapon.
Karimi is the chef, chief convener and comrade number one in all of it, telling stories about the foods we are eating, including the origins of the recipes.
"Soul Power" feels like a political happening. But it's neither heavy-handed nor heavy on the stomach. The evening begins with bike-powered smoothies at the back entrance of the venue (ingredients included cactus). We proceed to the tostadas and stews and alcohol-soaked raisins.
As the three-hour evening unfolded, I was constantly hungry for more. I was excited to see what was coming next, both in terms of my palate and appetite for drama. The scrumptious food alone is worth more than the $25 admission. The acting and performances? Good gravy.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390