The best thing about Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant is that it is a good idea that was kept alive through dedication, aspiration and motivation; we could all use a lot more of those things.
The dinner theater program deemed “The Mothership Landing” runs through September 25 at the Irondale Center in Fort Greene. This is a show for the adventurous and curious among us. Those willing to drop the façade and suspend disbelief in favor of the absurd will enjoy it most.
Every guest of Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant is treated with the utmost respect, and that respect, especially for the conspicuously absent legend herself, must be reciprocated. There’s even a song about it, which welcomes you from a magical cocktail hour to seating at one of eight tables for a five-course gourmet meal, sourced from the Hudson Valley.
Almost upon guests’ arrival to the Irondale the characters – who’ve been raised to idolize their departed leader – are chipping away at the fourth wall, and we’re immediately forced to play along. As soon as nametags are distributed, we’re in on the joke and permitted to participate. I had the pleasure of being called “Dominique Strauss-Wrath-of-Kahn,” my date, “The Philosopher King.”
The show has been adapted over five years from a single joke among a group of actors visiting Maine for a production of As You Like It. The joke was about a shuttered restaurant called Conni’s that the group decided should be home to a troupe of avant gardists, serving up delicious meals, and it turns out, making dinner theater relevant again.
I was invited to be a guest of Conni’s by one of those folks, Peter’s Character, whom in real life is a friend named Peter Lettre. Attending a show where I’m meant to act like I don’t know someone that I’ve known for around five years is an interesting twist on avant garde dinner theater. I persisted. My partner Rhett and I chatted with cooks Hair Messerschmidt (David M. Barber) and Miss Flipper Baby (Stephanie Dodd), she in full snorkel gear, as they prepared focaccia with ricotta, honey and pumpkin seeds (my new favorite snack) and then moved along to the bar and got the full treatment from Mrs. Robinson (Jeffrey Fracé), an aging rock star with runny mascara and a British accent.
Once the rules were laid out in song, we descended downstairs to the restaurant, found seats and the wine began to flow. We moved onto a delicious cucumber gazpacho, greenbean salad and later mousaka, meat or veggie, topped off by a chocolate brownie with fresh blackberry compote and cream. I still can’t help but giggle when I think of Muffin Character Handshake (Rachel Benbow Murdy) chanting “MOUSAKA!” at my table.
Before I knew it I was a joiner, participating in a competition to bus my table, which brought me to the stage with seven other participants. In true game show format, Mrs. Robinson asked of each of us a very pointed question with many possible correct answers. If I were a drink, what drink would I be? “A dry martini,” I responded, to his delight. “That is correct!”
At every turn of the show guests determined to make sense of it rather than happily participate are metaphorically dropped on their heads and forced into communal reactions of shock and awe with fellow seatmates – with whom banter, food and wine are shared and passed politely, breaking down yet another wall. Here is a way to combine community, theater, local healthy food, and entertainment. Where have you been all my life?
During the second course my table made the acquaintance of the devious Dr. Smith (Peter Richards), who had just strapped on some latex gloves and served us greenbean salad by hand. He was sure to use his other hand to write each of us a folded paper prescription to soothe our pain. Soon we were called for Gintermission, a new word in my lexicon. Without too many details I will tell you that this could in fact make it hurt more, at least the next morning.
The classic rock inspired song numbers of Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant and its storyline are unique every night, beautifully tongue in cheek, reek of irony, and rolled in delight, but there’s no need for me to explain them here. Go see it for yourself, because frankly this is a recession steal: cocktails, theater, dinner, art and inspiration only cost $60 in Fort Greene this Thursday through Sunday only.
Hey! I was also Dominique Strauss-Wrath-of-Khan! You must be a long-lost relative, or something.