Photo credit: All, Melissa Hom
"It’s one of the most dull art forms there is." Such is artist Jennifer Rubell’s feeling about dinner theater. "You’re eating mediocre food while being distracted from watching a show."
So Rubell took on a job as Director of Food Performance of “Queen of the Night,” the latest show from one of the producers behind the immersive theatrical production ”Sleep No More,” because she “was sure I could invent something better.” At this gluttonous extravaganza at The Diamond Horsehoe in midtown Manhattan, “the food is not a distraction or an intermission from the show,” she says, “it’s essential to the show.”
That food—75 lobsters, 26 short ribs served on the bone, eight suckling pigs, and those are just the entrées—costs about $4700 every night. The large-format feast is assembled by chef Jason Kallert (formerly of Le Cirque) and about 32 other employees toiling away in a custom-built, 6 million-dollar kitchen. “To get a whole pig dinner anywhere else, you have to get a group together, spend more money—it’s difficult. But it’s normal here. There are eight pigs, every night, so 80 people are having whole-roasted pig in one room.”
The name of the game at “Queen of the Night,” which is loosely based on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” is interactivity. Thom Browne uniform–clad dancers touch your cheeks. (This writer was taken by the hand and led through a storage room and into a walk-in refrigerator, where she was asked to scream at the top of her lungs. Then she was carefully returned to the main room, where she was left to choose from among the cocktails littering a tabletop.)
Diners are encouraged to barter with one other for food. “At what point would a billionaire ever pick up a lobster, with his hands, and walk across the room to ask for some pork?” asked Kallert. Well, rarely. But Mario Batali, who was seated at the table next to us, donated a very nice slab of his at the show.
Even the meal’s end involves guest participation. To clear the plates from the table, diners launch them—with crashes heard ‘round the grand dining room—into large bins.
"I have no interest whatsoever in proper banquet service," said Rubell, who finds certain moments in a restaurant meal "extremely problematic." Clearing tables is one of them: "You have a waiter coming around to your side, asking if you enjoyed your meal… It creates a major opportunity for passivity. And I don’t think passivity is a particularly pleasurable thing."
So smash those plates yourself. Dance with the acrobatic performers. Let them feed you, as they will try to. Barter with your fellow diners for beef. And watch as those trays of lobster are paraded around the room.
"The same way that a man looks at porn, I wanted everybody in that room to look at the food and feel that physical intensity," said Rubell. "And everyone does."
Does your dinner theater do that?