"Eating Their Words" Series Dusting Off Dinner Theater
June 10, 2008

Hunter and Tovar set the stage.
When Eater reported on the Elizabeth Street Tasting Room location closing last week and mentioned “a dinner theater event” as a negative prognostic sign, chef-owner Colin Alevras stepped up to the comments section to defend the event and its organizer: “Marlo produced a fantastic event,” wrote Alevras, while confirming the Tasting Room’s closing, “and I hope to be able to work with her again in the future.”

Marlo is Eating Their Words creator and director Marlo Hunter, who hopes that rote preconceptions of dinner theater – evoking images of septuagenarians with handlebar mustaches doing face plants into plates of green beans almandine – don’t interfere with her mission. Hunter commissions the writing of three plays for each event; the restaurant chef reads the scripts and plans a menu. The audience comes to a single-night performance and is seated at tables around the actors; they eat the same food the actors do, in courses, after each play.

Next Monday at the Waldorf Astoria restaurant Peacock Alley, Cedric Tovar will cook food to accompany short plays by Annie Baker, David Grimm, and Keith Reddin. In a nod to the Waldorf’s compressed history, Tovar will serve plates with two versions of food from two different eras.

Each Eating Their Words performance has a different theme that is the result of close collaboration between chefs and playwrights. "I wondered if there was a way to reinvent dinner theatre," Hunter says. "I never liked the term—it makes me uncomfortable, and it's usually poor quality food and theatre. I've always had a fascination with the culinary arts and wanted to integrate the work of those two kinds of artists."

Menus specially planned for each event also serve as programs, and are put together by Hunter and the chefs. Hunter is talking with Dan Barber at Blue Hill Stone Barns about the possibility of planning an event in the fall, and upcoming Eating Their Words events will feature new plays from Neil LaBute, Brooke Berman, and Steven Levenson. The chefs stay, for the most part, in their kitchens. Have any chefs expressed the desire to act? “No,” Hunter says. “I don't even know what they would do if they wanted to. That’d be way too gimmicky for my taste.”