The Festival of the Vegetables
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
February 7, 2010
As strange, or not, as it may sound, I've always felt that the grocery store carried with it a certain sense of drama. The neat rows of cans, the sense of order, the packaging—take a look next time and see if you don't automatically imagine it on a stage. And of course, no section of the grocery store is more dramatic than produce. With the bright colors and easy, natural ordainment, produce sections, from Whole Foods to the lowly bodega stand, can't help but celebrate the genius that is Planet Earth. But if you get awe-inspired by veggies lying around, just imagine if they came to life!
The Festival of the Vegetables, which bills itself as "a savory suite of poems and dances," is not your average children's theatre. Grounded in the day-to-day affairs of a well-cared-for produce section, Festival moves between the real world, where poetry celebrating the glory of all things vegetarian rings out, and the dream world, where the poems come to life, usually to the delight of child and adult alike. Serving as the narrators of the brief, 50-minute adventure are Diego Carvajal and Billy Dutton, both of whom serve wonderfully as our guides, happily inviting the audience into the world of the play without ever pandering to the younger set. The two are supported here by a multi-talented cast, whose focus is impressive especially considering the constant chatter emerging from the seats (thankfully, kids, not cell phones).
This reliance on movement and romantic-style poetry as text works, for the most part. Though in the first scene I found myself a bit lost, it was easy to catch up and embrace what Festival is trying to accomplish. To this end, certain scenes are more effective and clear than others. A true love scenario between a potato and tomato, coupled with an equally creative poem, is especially charming. The same can be said for what has to be the first Brussels sprouts inspired spectacle in the history of the New York stage. But where the poetry/dance merger works almost across the board, there are times where the medium appears to be too abstract for children (and at least one adult). An over-religious lettuce comes to mind.
The choreography by Rachael Kosch, who also designed the simple but cute costumes, deserves special mention for not only the complexity of her work, but the fact that a few of her dancers probably still drink milk before bedtime. Everyone here, regardless of age, is focused and well-directed, and for that, Kosch should be complimented. Michael Kosch's verse is equally engaging, funning and creative without ever straying from its classical roots. However, Mr. Kosch's music felt distracting, and in certain scenes, created darker tones on stage than I think was intended.
In Festival's unique world of poetry and dance, your child may find they don't understand all that is happening before their eyes, but no doubt they will leave having had an enjoyable time. This play is obviously quite serious about celebrating the goodness of naturally created food, and that message rings out from start to finish. The Festival of the Vegetables is a fun play, a worthy addition to the world of children's theatre, and welcome backup in the fight against children who refuse to eat what we parents know is good for them.