J. J. Gonson and the staff of Cuisine en Locale collaborated with Oberon, home of the American Repertory Theater’s The Donkey Show, to present a culinary and theatrical interpretation of the classic work by Dante Alighieri, the Divina Commedia: Inferno. The Inferno is the tale of Dante's journey, led by the Roman poet Virgil, through the Nine Circles of Hell, each dedicated to a specific sin or crime. The event included ten courses of locally sourced food as well theatrical acts to accompany each course.
The venue was intimate, a relatively small hall with a stage, bar, and tiered walkways. It was an excellent location for helping to immerse the audience in a play, and they used nearly every space in the hall during the play. The guests sat at circular tables and the servers were also participants in the play. I eagerly anticipated what would come.
I have to admit I was a bit disatisfied when I left the event. A number of the theatrical elements did not conform to my expectations. I was hoping for a darker edge to the acts, an emphasis of the terrors of Hell, the horrors of the Nine Circles. Instead, there were plenty of comedic elements and that was disconcerting to me. It almost felt like a mockery or parody of the Inferno.
But I knew something was wrong with my perception. So much time and effort had been invested in this play and I just couldn't believe they had chosen to make it a parody. I had to admit that it had been quite a long time since I had last read the Inferno. So my memory was spotty in many areas, and I assume that others were in a similar position. We probably only remembered the key points of the tale, the bare skeleton of the plot. So many of the details eluded us. What was I missing?
It actually took a zombie book to set me straight! The book, an examination of George Romero's zombie movies, referenced Dante's Inferno, pointing out its various comedic elements. It was not solely dark as my faulty memory had told me. That gave me a better appreciation of O.N.C.E in Hell.
I then read a post about Hell by Jennifer Ede, one of the cooks for the event, giving more background on some of the decisions that were made in preparation for the event. Her post indicated the subtleties inherent in the theatrical acts, their adherence to the themes and details of the Inferno. I had missed much it seemed.
There would have been plenty of benefit if I had read the Inferno prior to attending this event. As I had not, I failed to properly understand everything I was seeing, failed to fully appreciate the intricacies of what I witnessed. I am sure I am not alone, that many other guests lacked a sufficient familiarity with the Inferno to really appreciate the play.
What might have been useful for the guests would have been a summary sheet of the play and its major characters. That might have helped us better appreciate the event, as well as understand more of the nuances. I really wish I had better understood the Inferno before I had attended the event. In retrospect though, I am very appreciative of all the effort, thought and planning invested in the event.
For me, the highlights of the play were Lust, Heresy and Heaven. Lust presented the lovers Francesca and Paolo tangoing across the hall. They danced well, and the tango is certain a sexy dance, one filled with passion. Heresy presently three scantily clad, leather booted nuns doing a bit of a sexy bump and grind, with men yearning for them but being unable to have them. Obviously such a nun is a heretical idea, and any man would appreciate their erotic moves. Heaven displayed Beatrice doing some incredible acrobatics while God played a sitar. She was a vision of beauty and grace, of strength and agility.
The food highlights included the courses for Lust, Treachery and Heaven. Lust presented a Duxbury oyster shooter with a Keown Orchards Green Apple mignonette sauce. Salty and tart, it made an excellent beginning to the meal. Treachery offered Beelzebub's Beelzeburger and Fries, actually just a juicy burger slider on a fresh roll. I could easily have eaten a half dozen of them. Heaven then served up a Pavolva with Creme Anglaise and Verrill Farm Basil Blue Preserves, a creamy and sweet concoction, closing out the meal on a high note.
This was an ambitious event, a true challenge, and I do believe it was a success. Though it probably has not received sufficient appreciation because most of the guests failed to understand and/or remember the details of Dante's Inferno. I very much appreciate all the hard work that was invested in this event, and look forward to see what challenges they accept in the future.
And maybe I will read Dante's Inferno again.