Riverside Theatre — through Nov. 10
Somewhere, I read a likening of Feast. to Game of Thrones — which I thought sounded ridiculous. How could a one-woman, live stage show approximate the visual awe of flying dragons, the vast expanse of bloody battle scenes, the echo of hallowed throne rooms? But as usual, I turned out to be the unimaginative fool. You see, I was envisioning the cinematic, HBO version and forgot all about the books, which I have not read. The feeling of reading a really good book that pulls you all the way into its world of dragons, bloody battle, echoes ringing through hallowed halls and the tenderest, raw emotions of love lost, and failure? That is a perfect approximation of the experience of sitting in the audience of Feast.
Local playwright and performer Megan Gogerty debuted her newest one-woman show at Riverside Theatre on Oct. 25, and it will run through Nov. 10 (tickets $10-30). Feast. is as stark a contrast to her usual conversational comedic fare as possible. Diverting from previous performances, this time Gogerty does not play herself. I won’t tell you who she does play, though, because the who of the story creates the what and the why. And the visceral journey the audience takes to and with Gogerty’s character is a ride I want everyone to experience.
The experience begins as soon as you step foot into Riverside’s transformed theater space. The audience is split in half, a mirror image of itself set up on the stage to face what has traditionally been the house. In the center of the room is the playing space, where a table for eight is set as if the meal has just ended, the seats occupied by the lucky few audience members who not only have a front row seat to the action but become intimately acquainted with it — as we all do with our hostess who arrives (rudely) late.
The arrival of Gogerty’s character punctures the calm of a slightly upscale, casual dining space with the requisite chandeliers, table cloths and light jazz. Physically, Gogerty isn’t quite — right. She’s beautiful, with all the trappings of human femininity. Her costume, hair and makeup are tasteful and refined, but you get the sense that she isn’t yet used to them — she isn’t even used to this body she is in — and the cool colors in the light plot give her skin an unnatural hue. Over the course of our time with her, our hostess expands into Gogerty’s body, using it masterfully, and the lighting subtly supports her journey towards a visceral humanity that brims with life.
On that journey, she uses every inch of space available to her, including the aisles between seats and even, perhaps especially, the alley cut through the dining table, where she can address each of her dining companions. But don’t think the people in those seats are the only ones invited into the story. Gogerty manages to address the entire room with both authority and vulnerability in a way that makes every member of the audience feel as though she is speaking directly to them.
The lighting design leaves enough light to see the faces of everyone in the room, so Gogerty is very much imploring “you” as an individual and enthralling us all together with her story. And it’s a heck of a story, such that we can’t help but watch each other’s responses.
Her first wobbly order of business is to literally put a halt to the light jazz background music by banging on the sanctity of the stage manager’s booth (stage manager Roxy Running obliges). If the muzak was an attempt to lull us into the ease of a comfortable, if shallow, dinner party, our hostess arrives to (politely) rip us out of such complacency. In a show sparsely strewn with technical elements, this one sound cue tells an important piece of the story. So does the color and intensity of the lighting design, her grey gown and Assistant Stage Manager Jeni Tucker’s one set-clearing and one addition — playing the part of a cater waiter.
Nothing happens in this show without so much intention. And for that I must credit all three of the thoughtful, care-taking midwives of this piece: Gogerty, Saffron Henke and Chris Rich. It is clear that they worked in close harmony to tend to each element of storytelling with the kind of light touch that makes their hard work invisible.
What you are left with is Gogerty’s truly beautiful language, overflowing with imagery, paired with the striking visual image of Gogerty’s body creating a world that washes over and pulls you in. She pulls you down deep, if you let her. For myself, I found so many moments and layers of catharsis — I spent most of the show forgetting I was watching (and reviewing) a new piece of theater, and instead just felt a lot of my own feelings.
Feast. takes aim at and exposes all the rage in the room: the loss, the despair, the need for revenge. But somehow, also, by the end, all the hope, too. It’s an epic song about love that leaves you singing along. And if you think you don’t need that, in these increasingly dark days (of autumn; of strong men), then I’d like to respectfully insist that you do.