Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant: A Snowball's Chance
Upon your early arrival at 6:30 p.m. with a hearty appetite, you are allowed to choose your holiday name. I picked Naughty (not professionally, more as a hobby to fill in the time). You are then ushered into the bar area for act one, during which you can purchase a cocktail and nosh on appetizers while getting to know your fellow inmates. It gets pretty crowded rather quickly but soon you are paraded to the front steps where a picture of Conni is ceremoniously placed at "The Altar of Conni" as a sort of band plays and sings. Back to the bar for more songs and rules, then on to the dinner.
You proceed to one of the 10 tables that are marked Whoville, Bedford Falls, Up on the Rooftop, Dreidel Weiss, Grandma's House, Non-Denominational Soup Kitchen, Santa's Lap, Island of Misfit Toys, Gingerbread House Party, and Chinese Restaurant (you are assigned to a table upon entering the theater) where you meet your new family. Plenty of time is given early on and between courses for you to meet your table mates. It is like a really nice family dinner without the drama.
The drama is dished out by the cast, who also dish out the food at intervals. Presentation is everything, as each course is served with flairact two: Potato Leek Soup; act three: Waldorf Salad; act four: Turkey with Gravy and Cornbread Dressing, Green Bean Casserole with toasted almonds and pesto, as well as classic (served in the can) Cranberry Compote; act five: Drunken Chocolate Bundt Cake with butter rum glaze and whipped cream.
As for the show, it is an "everything including the kitchen sink" affair that includes full frontal nudity, strobe lights, haze, unsound medical advice, animal sacrifice, sudden death, gun shots, peace on earth, and really really bad puns. The collection of wines on the table puts everyone in a holly jolly mode (you can purchase additional wine and champagne once that supply runs out), and the action takes place all over the large room, so you have to be on your toes to catch everything. There is even a table-busing competition pitting the various groups against each other. It is immersive theater at its best.
The cast is an absolute hoot and only their stage names are given in the program (in order to protect the innocent or perhaps not so innocent). You are ably served by the likes of Muffin Character Hanshake (star of stage and screen and New Zealand children's TV), Shihu Shallnotbenamed (world-renowned performance arsonist), Mr. Spackle Barrymore (semi-famous vaudevillian/bee), Lady T. Rose (rock goddess and soup angel), Areese RR De La Fuente (barkeep and bear), Dr. Peterson (freelance psychiatric and OB-GYN hobbyist), Hair Messerschmidt (master of mise-en-scène), Sue James (general manager), Chef Triple D (note the bleached blonde gut), and nurses Hickory, Dickory, Doc and Eric. There is also a talking dog.
If you, like me, are overloaded with fake Christmas cheer, Santas, angels, glitter, carols, and all the other crap that bombards us during the holidays of conspicuous consumption, this is definitely our show. It's a great way to meet new friends and enjoy a really funny show and surprisingly great dinner. Tickets are hard to come by so order now.
Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant: A Snowball's Chance, through December 22, 2018, at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave, Cleveland OH. Most performances are complete sellouts, so order now. You can purchase tickets online at www.cptonline.org or by phone at 216-631-2727.