Hectic, hectic day! To top it off, my vehicle was under the weather but I HAD to get into the city, you see – the name of the play alone – had me intrigued and I couldn’t dare miss a minute of it. So some googling, an Uber ride later, I was relieved that I had made it in time for the show’s curtain to open.
I had never seen Peter Greenaway’s 1989 legendary movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, but I knew this ‘stage’ version, adapted by Nick Vyssotsky from the screenplay by Mr. Greenaway, that I was going to experience wasn’t ‘G’ rated, and that I was in for quite a fascinating and unpredictable and exciting evening. I was eager to see what the Baltimore Annex Theater had ‘cooked up’ for me and the other 29 diners who joined me on this adventure.
This ‘curtain opening’ was different than most. See, the instructions were to meet in a former cafe along with the other patrons, and for us to walk across the street as an unit to the play. That we did. Chattering and anxious to see what the night would unveil, we started our adventure as if it were an exciting school field trip.
Imagine our surprise, yet nervousness as we passed the announced venue to walk into an alley, and behind the row buildings, into another alley and… hmmmm, to hear melodic tunes. Yes, after following the sounds, we found ourselves standing in an alley looking on to a man standing in the doorway of a back kitchen, washing a plate and filling the air with his acapella rendition. How different. How intriguing. How I wanted more.
And more would I receive. Just as the evening began, Director Emily Hall used her creative juices to offer an evening of complete awe. While enchanted by the melodic sounds, a gang of people entered the alley dragging an abused man. Before our eyes, in the alley, we were eye witnesses to the torture and embarrassment of a man that obviously owed the ring leader some money. We watched as he was taunted and humiliated and cringed with each action. We soon learned that the heartless leader was also the thief/owner of the restaurant we were soon to enter, which left us a little uneasy and careful.
It was easy to become a true fan of Hall. From her clever directorial choice of having the actual play start outside of the venue, to presenting the play itself in a quaint, charming restaurant versus a stage house, the evening was enchanting. Hall, along with Set Designer Rick Gerriets, converted the Baltimore restaurant The Canteen into exactly what one would have envisioned the characters’ establishment to be.
After entering the slim back door, walking past the dishwashing singer, sliding in single file around the cooking staff through the scent-filled kitchen, we entered a room of beauty. A long table set like Thanksgiving love, complete with tea lights, live flowers, wine, and water carafes, and white dishes. The setting was dark and intimate with the candlelight setting the mood, and each plate setting was numbered for guests to be seated orderly.
The dining room also included a head table, an old school bar alongside the wall, and more cooks stationed, stirring more tantalizing edibles.
After the patrons were adequately seated, the scary restaurant owner/thief Albert, played by Riyann Kidwell, entered. Kidwell set the tone so well in the alley that I actually shuttered to be that close to him in such an intimate setting. His demeanor carried into the restaurant as he attempted to belittle the cook, Richard, (Ishai Barnoy), who constantly attempted to stand up for himself.
Sarah Lamar convincingly played Georgina, the thief Albert’s wife, and seemed to follow her husband like an intimidated, abused puppy dog. She seemed bothered and ashamed of his ratchet behavior and less than amused at what humored him.
A few excuses of her exiting to use the restroom allowed us to get to know her better. We were surprised with an inside view of the actual restroom. The wall above the set head table turned into a jumbotron and we watched the footage taped in the private restroom quarters. Georgina has a hidden treasure in her numerous bathroom trips – her lover, Michael (Maddie Hicks).
Ut oh, shouldn’t she know better than anyone how incredibly crazy her husband was? I was shivering, and I was just an onlooker!
Director Hall and her cast’s “out of the box” energy increased as scenes move from the head table, to the bar, to a loft built above our seats, back to that dark alley that we now could view from the restaurant window. Wow! This along with enjoying a four-course meal elegantly prepared by Canteen chef Dane Nester, alongside the characters, offered an experience like none other as we watched the story unfold. I’m not giving it all away.
The Baltimore Annex Theater’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover is an evening of intrigue, laughter, fear, shock, great food, and enchantment! It’s one of the most unique evenings I’ve ever experienced!
Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.