The Omnivore’s Dilemma, on stage!

Actors Nehemiah Markos, Justine Underhill, and Justin McCarthy enact a scene from The Omnivore's Dilemma, wherein Angelo Garro teaches author Michael Pollan how to dress (skin) a pig. Credit: Georgetown University

I recently stumbled across information about a theatrical adaptation (!?!) of Michael Pollan‘s bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Produced by Georgetown faculty member Natsu Onoda Power and her student collaborators, the unique production broke many standard theatrical conventions. As described by Rebecca Ritzel in a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education, the “adventure begins in Georgetown’s Gonda Theatre, with the cast of 16 actors explaining to the audience that this will not be a traditional theatrical experience. Patrons will be given a map and instructed to roam the performing arts building ‘foraging for theater.'”

As Lavanya Ramanathan details in The Washington Post, “Students in nooks throughout the arts center will be performing playlets about modern-day farming, and audience members, armed with maps, can pick and choose what they want to see, just as they might pluck dinner from grocery store shelves. Among the scenes is a chicken farm made entirely of TVs and a group-therapy session for ‘troubled vegetables.'” As Kathleen McCleery writes for PBS Newshour, other interactive scenes include the “Meal of Fortune” in which “you can play a pinball game. If you end up with the ‘poverty’ coin, you’re relegated to fast food options since it’s all you can afford. (The prize is diabetes.)”

McCleery continues: “It all ends with a feast, for the tastebuds and the brain. They serve a creamy corn soup made with lobster broth served with crusty bread and olive oil, all in real cups, real spoons, real glass flutes for the jugs of water (no Styrofoam or plasticware here). Finally, the audience is left to digest the meal, and the theater experience, with a few words taken from the Pollan’s last few pages: ‘Imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost.’ It’s an adventure likely taken by the already converted. But for anyone, it offers worthy food for thought.”

Since the show only ran for a week last summer, Ritzel notes that none of us are likely to see it again. For example, “what if another theater company wanted to put on Omnivore, and didn’t have a resident trapeze artist [to play the pig shown in the photo above]? Or an appropriate black-box space? There probably won’t be another company. That’s the beauty and the burden of producing devised theater [a nontraditional process in which the director, playwright, designers, and actors build a show from scratch rather than starting with a script]. This Omnivore is most likely a one-time-only show.” Who knows, though; perhaps other adventurous thespians will be inspired to create their own versions. In the meantime, you can click the links above to read about this playfully thought-provoking production.

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