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Bread and Circuses: Kitchen Magic With Chef Bayless at Lookingglass Theatre

Rick Bayless In CascabelIt's not uncommon for Hollywood to shape movies around non-acting celebrities—swimming stories for Esther Williams, opera stories for Luciano Pavorotti—and in theater, the currently-running Death and Harry Houdini at House Theatre was created to showcase the company's resident illusionist, Dennis Watkins. The hero of Lookingglass Theatre's Rick Bayless In Cascabel, however, is a cook. Not just any cook, either, but superstar foodslinger Rick Bayless, starring as a smitten suitor whose kitchen wizardry wins the love—and appetite—of a beautiful lady suffering a melancholy affliction.

"Rick Bayless had come to see our Hephaestus," author Heidi Stillman explains, "and he really loved it. He and Tony [Hernandez], our circus-master, tweeted back and forth a bit, and Tony said, 'You know, we ought to do something together.' That's how the talks began."

How did you decide that the play would include actual real-time cooking and eating as part of its action? "In Europe right now, you can see circus shows where the acts alternate with the courses of a meal cooked by popular chefs. For Lookingglass, blending these different elements seemed a natural progression. We have always been interested in the whole package of theatricality—not just words, but the visual, the physical, the aural—and with this show, smell and taste as well! I've also heard Rick discuss the performance elements of restaurant cooking, so this wasn't an odd progression for him, either. Both our art forms are ephemeral, they occur in communal settings, and they both can tell stories and convey emotions, albeit in very different ways."

It's also a universal experience—there's nobody who doesn't eat. "That's right. Food is survival, but it's also memory, a window to our past, to other cultures, other tastes. We use food metaphors to express psychological concepts when we speak of someone 'digesting news', or 'wasting away.' The material is rich with possibility."

Especially nowadays, where every mouthful we take is fraught with risk—is this dish unhealthy? If I have a cookie, will that make me a "bad" girl? It's no wonder that the man exercising power over such potent substances should assume the stature of a mythical knight. Does Bayless—who is not precisely a young man—have what it takes to play a romantic Prince Charming?

"Well, George Clooney isn't a 'young' man, either," argues Stillman, "[Bayless] is charming and handsome—did you know that he acted in plays when he was in school?—and he will be onstage doing what he does best. Isn't it always intriguing to see someone so highly skilled working their own unique kind of magic?"

Rick Bayless In Cascabel begins performances on March 21 at Lookingglass Theatre in the Water Works and runs through April 22.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Contributing Writer

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