Rib-Eye Steak With a Side of Shakespeare

Rib-Eye Steak With a Side of Shakespeare


At “Passion Nation,” a random assortment of dishes and short scenes made it feel like dinner theater in a garment district event space.

The story, such as it is, works its way back from the moon landing to Alexander Hamilton’s era. While eating cheese and crackers, I learned that Lincoln enjoyed cheese and crackers. Occasionally, I exchanged raised eyebrows with audience members across the room, so I suppose “Passion Nation” did succeed in creating a communal spirit, as gatherings that involve alcohol and pigs in blankets usually do.

And community-building is indeed a key element in these shows.

In “Lewiston/Clarkston,” Mr. Hunter often writes about people’s efforts to form bonds, usually in small Idaho towns — the kind of places that are often praised for communal values but that, in real life, can prove just as alienating as big cities.

His double bill, at a reconfigured Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, encourages audience members to introduce themselves to their neighbors at de facto picnic tables. You could see a similar effect at “Oklahoma!,” where people tended to stay in their seats and interact with strangers during intermission, and at “The Dead, 1904,” where I chatted with a visiting Irish couple and a man who was seeing the show for the third time.

But these theater experiences don’t just form connections among attendees. They can link audience and cast in a novel way.

The border between actors and spectators was porous at the immersive “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” where, incidentally, lucky audience members were given pirogies to snack on. In Ivo van Hove’s “Network,” which just opened on Broadway, I sat onstage in a section called Foodwork with about two dozen other theatergoers, where we all enjoyed a complete dinner.

The connection between a three-course meal (star: roast beef salad) and a play about a newscaster going bonkers (star: Bryan Cranston) is tenuous. (The chocolate mocha torte was very tasty, though.)



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