Its not everyday a well-known chef headlines a new play, so it was with great interest I attended the new immersive comedy, A Recipe For Disaster! This Windy City Playhouse production has taken over an entire floor of the recently reopened Petterino’s restaurant, dubbing the performance space “The Playhouse at Petterino’s”. This multi-sensory experience offers the acting debut of renowned celebrity chef and James Beard Award-winner, Rick Bayless. Not only is he the star, but he is also credited as a playwright and the creator of the sample bite-size tastings delivered to the audience throughout the production. The snacks were divine, it’s the play that left a poor taste in my mouth.
Aspiring to be a slap-stick romp, the jokes are as flat as day-old warm champagne. It took a writing team of five people to pen this chaotic mess of a script; Rick Bayless, Carl Menninger, Amy Rubenstein, Deann Bayless and Kevin Sullivan, but the sum of their combined efforts left me wanting more. A lot more. Directed by David H. Bell, this immersive production crumbled under the weight of its own ambitions. When the action takes place mere inches away from the audience members, you cannot hide behind the usual smoke and mirrors of a larger stage. The one dimensional characters aren’t satisfying enough to sustain this silliness for a full 90 minutes.
The action is centered around “Influencer Night’ at the fictitious upscale restaurant, The Contumacious Pig. Joining Bayless on this galley themed misadventure is a team of vapid nincompoops. Artistic Director, Amy Rubenstein is Shelly, the hostess and manager who begins the production on the phone in the lobby chatting with her mother, and then quickly has to put out an unending series of metaphorical fires, including juggling repeated kitchen mishaps, customer complaints, a missing pig as the main course, a surprise and unscheduled visit from a health inspector and a pointless back-story love affair with Bayless himself, that went absolutely nowhere. Scott Duff plays hapless Health Inspector Clyde, as a pratfalling, insecure, dolt. Duff is a regular on the comedy and improv circuit in the Windy City and deserves better.
Marcus Jackson is Boris, the standby server with a hidden agenda. I won’t spoil that here, but I must say he was punished with one of the worst hairpieces I have ever seen. From my high-top table seating, I was inches away from the worst hairline on a man since John Travolta’s sharpie black, Oscar night toupee. I understand costumer Uriel Gomez had a shoe-string costume budget, but this party supply store rug was an embarrassment. Rounding out the cast, Darian Teneas as Kiki, a self-important, self-indulgent, tediously pretentious vegan social media influencer and her plus one, Desiree Staples as Loreen, a man hungry kleptomaniac on the prowl for a beau, a full set of glasses and cutlery, all stolen from the restaurant.
The two standouts in this mess are Daniel Trinidad as Felix, a kitchen assistant who is also an aerialist, juggler and acrobat. This production should consider itself lucky to find this talented newcomer, a gifted physical comedian who delivered legitimately sincere laughter inducing moments. Juggling oversized kitchen knives with confident ease. The most solid acting came from Sam Linda, as sous chef assistant, Iggy. Making his Windy City debut with this production, Linda is real find. His character keeps the kitchen running, far from smoothly, but he finished the show with his pride and dignity still intact, which is far more than I can say for the rest of the cast.
For those wanting an entire experience, there is a VIP package available to purchase which includes a pre-show charcuterie board and cocktails. During the show’s run, there are edible treats served to the audience. Amuses include crispy pita with homemade hummus, za’atar-roasted tomatoes and oil-cured olives as well as roasted dates with smoky gorgonzola dolce with cilantro passed as appetizers. To wash these delicacies down, a signature cocktail called a Chicago Paloma, with Espolon blano tequila, fresh grapefruit and lime juice with Malort over ice. Wild Mushroom Veloute with fresh thyme, sherry and Aleppo peppers helps this absurd farce of mistaken identity, a drugged chef, kitchen sabotage, and more go down a bit smoother. By the time the dessert is served, a Chocolate Fantasy of moist chocolate cake with avocado chocolate mousse and tequila-mascerated mango, everyone will be ready for this to wrap up. As an fyi, non-alcoholic cocktails are also available during the show upon request. Accommodations for dietary restrictions are also available, just make certain to contact the box office before showtime. It is also requested audience members not touch the performers or take photos during the production, the latter a rule repeatedly and consistently violated the night I attended.
As of March 23, 2022, proof of vaccination is required to attend, but the wearing of masks is optional. The evening I attended, everyone but my plus one and myself opted to not wear a mask at all at any point during the production. With Covid-19 on the uptick again and Broadway shows like Macbeth, Plaza Suite, A Strange Loop and Paradise Squarecancelling and postponing shows because their leads are testing positive, I wish everyone involved here good health and good luck.
Windy City Playhouse’s A Recipe For Disaster! is currently playing at The Club Level of The Playhouse at Petterino’s