Cooking Con Karimi
nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
June 15, 2007
What is a reviewer to do when, shortly into the show you are there to review, the actors pick you to come up on stage, and receive a "Proletariat Employee of the Year Award"?
Well, you cheerfully become part of the show, of course!
It happened to me at Cooking Con Karimi (Con Castro), a show that offers live cooking, interactive theatre, song and dance, poetry reading, as well as brazen political activism, with audience howling and clapping throughout. I was not the only one invited onto the stage—in fact the entire audience is, food in hand while being filmed for Public Access television.
Such is the adventure served up by Robert Farid Karimi and John Manal Castro, playing Mero Cocinero Karimi and Comrade Cocinero Castro, respectively. But the fun is just the dessert. The main course is politics. Quite simply, these two talented actors and chefs want nothing short of a revolution. With the set adorned with signs and posters reminiscent of those at a peace rally, and buttons all over Mero's apron that declare "U$A—The best election money can buy" and "Support the Police—Beat yourself up!", the stirring ideas fill the theatre just as quickly and surely as does the aroma of sautéed onions and crushed mint.
These chefs want people—and that seems to be one of their favorite words, the other being, not surprisingly, comrade—to "eat slow, with someone you love, and make a new friend.""Revolution starts in the kitchen," says Mero. He believes that we can counteract the "indigestion" caused by the current war in Iraq and other injustices with choices and changes we make in our homes, at the grocery store, and across the table from one another.
Food naturally (and organically) takes center stage, with three appetizers whipped up in front of the audience and sampled by all. There are other surprises best left to your own discovery, but be sure to come hungry, not merely for physical nourishment but for metaphors and stories that add flavor and political messages that give bite, every cooking step of the way.
The highlight of the show for me is the songs. After Mero's outrage over the appearance of Spam in their kitchen, and its dark past argued over, the "Spam Song" is sung to, well, a can of Spam. "You've got a place to go," croons Comrade Castro, his hand lovingly rubbing his belly. It almost turned me into a Spam fan. Well, almost.
Karimi has a charisma that could turn any politician green with envy. Castro, a professionally trained chef, hits the bulls eye in the joke department with his deadpan delivery. This dynamic duo co-produced and wrote the entire show that has apparently gained much popularity in the Midwest before coming to the Big Apple for the first time. The format and pacing may be a little rough around the edges, but that might be by design, creating a personable, common-man feel and indeed, a sense of comradeship.
So what type of theatre is Cooking Con Karimi (Con Castro) exactly? I think Mero would be the first to protest any attempt at genre defining. Diversity is the key ingredient on his stage, and mixing the prominent action. In the end it is an experience very much like enjoying a delectable meal with good friends—you are thrilled while immersed in it, and it is always, always too short.
And I swear that I am not saying that just because I received a beautiful wooden spoon for my "Award"!