Chinese Food - friday 2011-02-04 1926 last modified 2011-02-08 1316
Categories: Food
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Last week I attended a performance art piece in Silver Lake with a couple friends. It was a critical evaluation of the restaurateur within a Chinese-American cultural framework, the theater of the absurd intertwined with the every day, an examination of what we take for granted by taking it all away. We as the audience took part in the performance, the audience as patron, experiencing firsthand what the director had to say about dining out.

The absurdity began the moment we entered, the door jangles sounding out to no effect. In a brilliant, subtle, stroke, the phone at the front of house went off about the same time, also to no effect. In this piece, the customer had no chance to be right. They didn't exist. After exaggeratedly and pointedly not looking towards us when walking in from the back of the house, we were at last noticed and slowly waved vaguely towards whatever seats / table we wanted to situate ourselves in for the duration. Without menus. These performers were dedicated. Within the space of minutes we were questioning the sanity of consuming their food, all without having even seen it listed. Of course, the rest of the space was effectively devoid of other patrons. The set design was suggestive of this place's existence primarily as a delivery service, taking over the big tables - the eight tops - with orders to go and their constituent assembly pieces, as if to further suggest that no one in their right mind, and especially nobody in the company of others in their right mind, should be sitting here.

We furthered the piece by leaving the table to acquire our own set of menus, passing the one member of the waitstaff who had become absorbed in the phone she finally answered after shunting us into the heart of the show. I didn't catch her name, but she was skilled. She made me believe her mind existed on an entirely different plane from her body. She brought table settings for three to a table already laid out for two. In one of her most enchanting acts, she actually picked up a tea cup that was on top of a fork to verify that a fork was there. Take it in for a moment. Tea cups are generally not manufactured in such gargantuan sizes that they could entirely conceal a normal, adult-sized fork. It would take less than a second's glance to ascertain the fork-atop-tea cup situation and adjust accordingly. But not for this show. No. Pick up the cup and look at the rest of the fork that was so diabolically obscured. It was almost as if she were looking for the remains of her life underneath that cup, like she'd left them under a cup long ago and ever since checked under every single one in case she might find them there once more. If so, she did not find it that night. So sorely disappointed was she that she simply left the table at that point, failing to distribute the rest of the settings she had brought. Of course, the additional and excess table settings had nowhere to go, since bringing one would have been sufficient. They simply sat there, going nowhere. Just like her character.

At this point, we had had sufficient time to look over the menu, a relic of a decade ago with prices to match, evocative of all the years that had passed this place by. As we put in our order, the waitress subtly went for her coup de grace. Instead of waiterly inattention, she exercised a distressing zealousness, scribbling down our order, our dialogue, a Shakespearean sonnet, and additional scholarly commentary, or she must have for the length of time she took to put the order to paper. I, for one, was enthralled. The performance mostly ended here, though, and we were left to our giant sized portions as some penance for the journey up until that point. They did ignore us when trying to obtain the bill and pay it, though this was a weak, predictable way to close the show.

A note on the score: radio dialed to cheesy 80's hits. Wind Beneath My Wings. The Time of My Life. Whitney Houston blasting I Will Always Love You (transgressing into the early 90's).

I came away thinking the director's main thesis concerned how leading a life without variation becomes a self-satire bathed in ennui. It was a powerful evening. I laughed, I cried, I ate. I was moved. If you'd like to attend a showing of your own, get in touch with me. The performances are hidden in plain sight, the set ironically located in an actual restaurant.

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