829 Broadway between Twelfth & Thirteenth Sts.
Monday - Saturday through September 7, $75-$200
To twist a Shakespeare phrase, “If food be the music of life, play on.” The Twelfth Night quote applies to Food of Love Productions, which last year scored a hit with Shake & Bake: Love’s Labor’s Lost, an interactive presentation of the Bard comedy that was first staged in an apartment, then in a repurposed vacant storefront on Gansevoort St., where multiple dishes were served during the show. Food of Love has now teamed up with immersive specialists Third Rail Projects, the company behind such innovative shows as Then She Fell and Ghost Light, on Midsummer: A Banquet, a delicious expansion on the idea of dinner theater, taking place in a reinvented space by Union Square Park that has been turned into the lavishly decorated Café Fae. (The name refers to the fairy world in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as, if you say it fast, a famous twitter word posted by the current president.)
The central room evokes an 1890s Paris café, filled with small, round tables, a bar, long banquettes, and tiny half tables that seem to require fairies to hold your food, as they offer almost nowhere to put your feet or plates. (These demi-tables are to be avoided unless being physically uncomfortable for two and a half hours is your thing.) The exuberant cast moves through the narrow space in the middle and on and around white pillars, one transformed into a tree stump. As they relate Shakespeare’s beloved tale of one fantastical summer’s evening, the actors occasionally turn into waitstaff, bringing food to you, including a forest picnic of harvest grains and market vegetables, fairy kebabs of applewood-smoked veggie skewers, and love bundles of fruit. There’s also wine and cheese, Prosecco, crudités, and dessert, but be careful when buying your tickets, because some seats don’t come with everything.
The play has been liberally streamlined by director and choreographer Zach Morris, the co-artistic director of Third Rail, and actress Victoria Rae Sook, the founder of Shake & Bake, focusing on the key moments of love gone wrong amid mistaken identity. “Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth,” Theseus (Ryan Wuestewald) tells the Philostrate (Lauren Walker). Theseus, the duke of Athens, is preparing to marry Hippolyta (Sook), queen of the Amazons. Egeus (Charles Osborne) comes to Theseus, insisting that his daughter, Hermia (Caroline Amos), marry Demetrius (Joshua Gonzales), but she wants to wed only her true love, Lysander (Alex J. Gould). And Helena (Adrienne Paquin) is madly in love with Demetrius, who brutally shuns her.
Hermia and Lysander run away into the forest, where fairy king Oberon (Wuestewald) rules with his queen, Titania (Sook). Messing with the power of love, Oberon asks Robin Goodfellow (Walker), better known as Puck, to use magic to make Demetrius love Helena, but things go awry and soon both Demetrius and Lysander are chasing Hermia, and Titania wakes up next to donkey-faced weaver Nick Bottom (Osborne), part of the Rude Mechanicals theater troupe that is putting on the tragicomic Pyramus and Thisbe with the tinker Snout (Gonzales), the bellows mender Flute (Gould), the joiner Snug (Amos), the tailor Robin Starveling (Walker), and the carpenter Peter Quince (Paquin).
As with Shake & Bake: Love’s Labor’s Lost, there is much merriment to be had, and much good food, curated by Emilie Baltz. The quarters are designed by Jason Simms with an Art Nouveau, Alphonse Mucha flair, while Tyler M. Holland’s costumes are sweet and dainty. There is live music by sound designer Sean Hagerty before and during the show, played by several cast members, most prominently Paquin on guitar. The acting can be hit or miss — Amos, Paquin, Wuestewald, and Walker excel, while Osborne chews up scenery faster than the audience munches away — but Midsummer: A Banquet is more about the experience as a whole, and it’s a tasty one to be savored.