Review: ‘Confection’ by Third Rail Projects at the Folger Shakespeare Library

A Receipt (or Recipe) conceived and written by Zach Morris of Third Rail Projects

Note before you begin: Confection is a unique, multimedia, multisensory, ambulatory, audience-interactive, site-specific theatrical experience — “a rollicking rumination on teeny-tiny desserts.” If you don’t want to spoil its surprising taste by knowing what ingredients are in it, don’t read this recipe — just get tickets and dig in.

Third Rail Project’s 'Confection.' Photo by Brittany Diliberto.
Third Rail Project’s ‘Confection.’ Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

The Recipe:

  1. Take a good quantity of fine sugar, flour, eggs, music (by Sean Hagerty) and spoken-word poetry (additional text by Tom Pearson). Add to it the musty flavor of old, leather-bound books and the buttery richness of luxurious 17th-century costumes (by Karen Young), including damask gowns, brocade coats, velvet breeches and plenty of lace. Mix up the gender of the bodies wearing the costumes, for extra spice.
  2. Fold in a heavy dollop of knowledge on the role slaves played in providing sugar to sate the sweet tooth of the Old World, and drop in a Martin Luther King quote for good measure, to deepen the flavor. Add a large slice of let-them-eat-cake social commentary. Pour in a spoonful of the salty tears of the working class. Shake on just a dash of revolutionary violence and a soupçon of game theory.
  3. Shock the palate by having a white male play a slave and a female servant, thus highlighting the inequities and indignities they endured by seeing them embodied by the personification of privilege.
  4. Add the yeast of sensuality, and let rise. Punch down with the sour tang of coercion of subordinates and commodification and consumption of poor bodies.
  5. Stir with audience perambulation and beat to a high froth with performers dancing on tables, from minuets to modern, until soft peaks form.
  6. Pour into talented Collaborators/Performers Elizabeth Carena, Alberto Denis, Joshua Dutton-Reaver, Justin Lynch, and Marissa Nielson-Pincus, filling almost to overflowing.
  7. Bake over the warm glow of candles and area lighting (by Brittany Shemuga) for about an hour.
  8. Garnish with delectable macarons and sweetmeats flavored with almond, cardamom, ginger, and orange-blossom (by Lila Miller of Lupin Baking Company) plus the pinch of inequity.
  9. Serve, accompanied by luscious tablescapes (props by Xandra Weaver) in the glorious surroundings of the Folger Private Reading Rooms — no other container will do.

This recipe produces sweetmeats for about 50 people.

What kind of dish is it? It is not a full meal, but is too rich to be a trifle. It is very sweet and will leave some people wanting more, while others might feel a tad bilious, over-fed with ideas. It is definitely not a bombe. It is most like an elaborate cake with many layers and fillings.

Third Rail Project’s 'Confection.' Photo by Brittany Diliberto.
Third Rail Project’s ‘Confection.’ Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

Notes from someone who made the recipe:

  • The volume of music tended to overpower the other flavors — lower next time.
  • The beginning taste comparing the 17th century to our own era, with its conflicts and inequality, seemed overdone and slightly stale. Better to let that piquancy develop on its own without the unsubtle artificial flavoring.
  • Perhaps stir with dance for a little less time – the froth began to overwhelm the deeper flavors.
  • Possibly cut the man dancing down the table with the Carmen Miranda fruit-laden hat – it tended to confuse the palate.
  • Maybe increase the portion of beautiful books — some of the sweetest tastes came from performers consuming pages from quartos, eating sweets out of folios, and using books to mimic the four and twenty blackbirds fluttering from the pie — is there any more delicious pairing than bonbons and books?
  • Overall, I might decrease the modern flavors, such as rave-inspired dancing with beatbox accompaniment, and increase the proportion of original period flavors — the minuet, the interactions with books, the serious tang of inequity and injustice. Too strong modern tastes conflicted with the 17th-century elegance that formed the base flavor, and risked over-beating it into a silly froth.

But overall, extremely tasty – would make again!

Confection is commissioned by Folger Theatre in association with their Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures interdisciplinary project. When coming to see Confection, make time to take in the First Chefs exhibit as well.

Confection runs from March 4 – 24 at The Folger Library, 201 East Capitol Street SE, Washington DC. It lasts about an hour, and includes walking, climbing stairs, and tasting food. Purchase tickets by calling (202) 554-7077 or go online.

Ticketed standby places will be available beginning one hour prior to curtain time at the Confection Box Office at the Folger.

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Jennifer Georgia
Over the past four decades, Jennifer has acted, directed, costumed, designed sets, posters and programs and generally theatrically meddled in Maryland, Princeton, London, and Switzerland. She has made a specialty of playing old bats – no, make that “mature, empowered women” – including Mama Rose in Gypsy, the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at Montgomery Playhouse; Dolly in Hello, Dolly! and Carlotta in Follies in Switzerland; and Mrs. Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer, Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, and Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady in London. (Being the only American in a cast of 40, playing the woman who taught Henry Higgins to speak, was nerve-racking until a fellow-actor said, “You know, it’s quite odd – when you’re on stage you haven’t an accent at all.” Her most recent indomitable female was in a student-directed film where she played the monster Grendel’s Mother – a role last embodied on film by Angelina Jolie in a CGI coat of gold paint; Jennifer took it in a rather different direction. (She has no idea why she keeps getting cast as these imposing matriarchs; actually she is quite easy-going. Really). She has also directed shows including You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Follies, and most recently Woody Allen’s Mr. Big in the MP One Acts Festival. She is also the Publicity and Promotions Director for Montgomery Playhouse. In real life she is a speechwriter and editor.

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