Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Theater Grottesco
Review by Frances Madeson

Also see Dean's review of Much Ado About Nothing and Mark's review of The Motherfucker with the Hat

Image Courtesy of Theater Grottesco
Pie. It's such a loaded concept. So many associations. Easy as, American as, in the face, in the sky, home for singing blackbirds. It's how we chart proportion, who has what, measure equity. It's been thoroughly explored in theatrical terms by that genius Stephen Sondheim in Sweeney Todd. Is there anything left to say about pie?

Well, of course there is, there's always more to say about everything, even pie is not finite. But let's bracket the question, because the new devised theater piece by Theater Grottesco, though named Pie, is not about desserts, just or otherwise. It's about precursors to creation, and voids of leadership, and grieving losses, and ...

It takes its imaginative and thematic leap from science visionary Carl Sagan who famously wrote: "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

Making and inventing is what Grottesco's been doing for the past 34 years, so conceiving a 90-minute composite glimpse into a pie-possible universe should be a snap, right?

Turns out it's not so easily accomplished, though the phenomenally multi-talented company has devoted their artistic energies for the last two years to puzzling over it.

As our journey begins, it's Beethoven's piano music and not "The William Tell Overture," that reassuringly places us sonically in the realm of a-r-t, respectability, and tradition—Grottesco's unfolding universe is civilized!

The opening scene is a comedic exploration of four panelists, two men and two women, gathering to impart their expertise in a symposium on an unknown topic that never formally gets started because the moderator is a no-show. The awkwardness of this situation is fully displayed—throats are cleared, sips of water are consumed, the edges of plastic cups are clicked, nervous, whispered introductions are made among the panelists—all the usual business of waiting publicly for something to get going, when no one wants to assert leadership. Does the absence of a moderator mean there will be no moderation?


Soon the scene devolves into extremes of behavior, even violences—coughing fits, seizures, flailing limbs, accidental injuries, nonsensical statements such as the unfortunate "dark matter matters," and a generalized mayhem that quickly comes to feel like cover for an essential emptiness or openness. What had the speakers come here to say and why aren't they saying it? Why are our expectations being defied?

One of the panelists (played by Danielle Reddick) rises and the white tablecloth is stuck to her dress—is this some form of uber static electricity? In a fine bit of slapstick, the other panelists pick up the table and rush behind her in whatever direction she charges so she doesn't accidentally pull it off the table, and along with it the pitchers of water and the faux tin foil microphone. Artifice is foregrounded in the conceits and props and mental processes of the panel. Whence this impulse and not another? Are they saving her from the embarrassment of ruining the table? Or encouraging the bonding of material on material, unconditionally supporting unseen processes?

As more piano music plays they enact the disbursement of matter. They all blow protractedly and the lights come on. What's the connection between their action and the reaction, is it causation or coincidence?

Reddick begins to sing a song about cheeses, and the company takes up the song, too. What is cheese but bacteria being put through its paces, agents acting upon agents in unseen ways? And suddenly the fourth wall is broken and the actors rush into the audience, cheese still on their minds.

Sparkly stars appear (the wonderful lighting effects were designed by Skip Rapoport) and the company dances, floating in space. All of this has transpired in the first third of the show, with much more to come. Some of it will be equal to the grandeur of their topic, and other scenes, like the "Unintended Consequences" game show, might have been better left on the laboratory floor and a more ingenious way of delivering messages about winning and losing in the game of life devised.

The show, like the universe, is not perfect; its composition is beset by kitchensinkism, which has the effect of dulling its overall luminosity. Or maybe it's perfectly imperfect. The prompts it divinely and devilishly offers are ultimately nuggets of Grottesco's collective wisdom urging further contemplation about where we go from here. The show's last line makes a suggestion we can either succumb to or refute. Like everything that comes before, it's a serene provocation delivered enigmatically. Mysteries to mull when making our own pie and remaking our worlds.

Theater Grottesco's Pie plays at the Adobe Rose Theatre, 1213 Parkway Drive, Suite B in Santa Fe, Thursday to Sunday through April 30, 2017. For tickets and information, visit

Co-created by and featuring Apollo Garcia Orellana, Tara Khozein, Danielle Louise Reddick and John Flax; direction and additional writing by Kent Kerpatrick.