The Last Supper by Elyse Sommer
I recently reviewed a revival of Pirandello's Right You Are (the review), the satire which paved the way for the term Pirandellian to become a common synonym to conjure up a blurring between illusion and reality. But the most Pirandellian theatrical experience currently available to New York theater goers is not Pirandello's own play, but Ed Schmidt's The Last Supper.
Ed Schmidt, The Last Supper's creator, host and star
(Photo: Greg Choat)
This one of a kind "dinner theater" (the quotes are mine to emphasize that this is unlike any dinner theater you've ever attended) has moved from last year's sold-out run in producer-playwright-performer-host-chef Schmidt's Brooklyn home to a Manhattan apartment which accommodates twice as many guests (30) as before. In a season where plays often feature food as a major character, The Last Supper is the only one that actually promises to dish up a real sit-down supper. And there's your first Pirandellian conundrum.
Should you count on really sitting down to a four-course meal with Schmidt and the rest of the audience at the end of his retelling of the story of the women who prepared Christ's Last Supper or is this a spoof? After all, the " theater" where this will take place bills itself as a church and you will be listening to Schmidt, a "Universal Life minister" sitting in a church pew. Tickets too are atypical. While reservations are a must, you won't be paying for a ticket but will be asked to make a donation in a blank envelope as you leave. This pay what you will and as you leave system is designed to evade trouble with the IRS which has assigned a man named Arthur Miller to unorthodox venues like this.
Given Schmidt's extensive multi-tasking, things might go wrong and your donation might be for pizza instead of the promised four-course meal. You might even find a notice in your program -- not a Playbill but a more modest publication entitled "Today's Missal " (That "Missal" is highly recommended reading!).
And what about the eighty minute play itself? Is the biblical story in fact what this is really all about, or does it have more on its mind -- or less?
Rest assured that you will be asked to rise and join your host in singing a hymn and that if you peek behind the curtain at the rear of the last pew, you will see two long tables set for a formal supper. However, in order for you to have as good a time as I and my fellow guests did, you should head for The Last Supper with an open mind and preferably not knowing more than I've told you. For those of you who prefer not to be surprised, there's a part two to this review which provides details about the play and the food; to read it go here.
In case you share Mr. Schmidt's organizational and acting skills and live in an apartment or house that you would like to transform into your own churchly dinner theater, check out his web site (see production notes) which includes a detailed franchising plan.
The Last Supper
Written, performed and hosted by Ed Schmidt
Running time: The show runs approximately 80 minutes, not counting an unusually enjoyable intermission and the post show dinner
The Church of the Holy Transformation AKA Apartment 4W, 154 W. 27th St., apt. 4W -- 718-499-7758 or email@example.com
Ticket price: No tickets per se, but voluntary donation for show, food and drinks at a suggested $50 to $75 per person
The show promptly begins at 7PM, every Friday and Saturday, from 10/17/03 to 2/28/04; opening 12/16/03
To reserve a seat at the table, or need more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on December 5th press preview
Links to reviews of other of the season's other food focused plays
The Cook -- This is a conventional play by Eduardo Machado that traces the Cuban revolution (from Battista's expulsion to the present) through the lives of a gifted cook and her husband. The revolution's effect on Gladys and Carlos are all seen from the vantage point of a well equipped and actively used kitchen. By the end of the first act, the theater is permeated with the rich aromas of the dishes being prepared. The audience doesn't get to eat any of the food prepared as part of the play but appetizers (fried plantains) are passed around by some of the actors (you don't realize they're cast members until the play begins) in the lobby and as you take your seat.
Dinner With Demons (this link will become activated after the show's official opening on 12/16/03)-- playwright and NYTimes food writer Jonathan Reynolds combines an anecdotal memoir with preparing an elaborate menu in a setting that is every gourmet cook's dream. The theater is bathed in the aromas ranging from butter and onions to deep fried Turkey to a giant apple pancake. The audience thus gets to smell, but not taste -- and no nibbles either before or after. Take away the food, and this is a standard solo show in which the author-performer wrestles with his youthful demons.
Omnium Gatherum -- This collaborative work by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros took place around a dinner party which assembled a group of Manhattan litterati to consume an haute cuisine menu. Basically an attempt to deal with the 9/11 disaster, this dinner party from hell proved to be a box office disaster. It's doubtful that treating the audience to at least some nibbles would have kept this show from going to an early grave.