While most theater types have been home quarantining, the intrepid visionaries at the Geffen Playhouse have spent the pandemic repeatedly breaking the fourth wall. It started with Helder Guimarães’ The Present, mounted less than two months after shutdown. David Kwong’s Inside the Box (still running through March 7th) and Chelsea Marcantel’s Citizen Detective followed (and is still playing another week). There’s a second Guimarães show, The Future. And now comes Sri Rao’s Bollywood Kitchen, a cooking show on steroids.
In each case, audience members receive a pre-show package containing items that raise the experience from passive to interactive. The Present’s deck of cards and other goodies enabled participation in a magic show. Inside the Box and Citizen Detective emailed prep work related to puzzling and mystery-solving. Bollywood Kitchen FedExes a gorgeous custom food box containing seven spices and all the nonperishable ingredients you’ll need to cook along with the show, plus a shopping list and recipes.
Rao, whose website bills him as a writer, filmmaker and speaker, is also a cookbook author and storyteller. He weaves these many skills together in Bollywood Kitchen, a theatrical adaptation of his cookbook by the same name. The show incorporates Bollywood movie clips, family photos, tales of growing up brown and gay, and Indian cooking tips.
You cook along while watching, making a menu that includes chicken curry (or a vegetarian alternative), jasmine rice, and a chai dessert. The recipes are lengthy but easy to follow, which helps since there’s a lot happening onscreen and no pause button. Even better, they’re all delicious.
Rao is a charming host, with stories about his parents’ arranged marriage and move from India, and his own childhood of bullying and bigotry as part of the only Indian family in a Pennsylvania town. Family, Indian culture and food are the show’s foundation, and what made Rao more than a survivor. The stories and their accompanying multimedia are compelling, and director Arpita Mukherjee weaves them together masterfully. I wish I could have watched without having to keep an eye on the stove.
Two of the three ticket options feature a stream of opening night, which allows you to watch Rao interact with an international audience, including one vegetarian who’s never cooked chicken before. There’s a definite voyeuristic/also-ran feel to watching other people interact live while you rifle through the food box looking for coconut powder. That said, trying to cook and interact with strangers would probably be even more stressful—and expensive.
Regardless of the option selected, Bollywood Kitchen is a feast for eyes and palate.
- There are three ticket levels, and it can get a little complicated. Top of the heap is “Interactive Chef’s Table,” $175, a limited-seating category that includes a live performance and the box. Mid-level is a stream plus box, the $95 “Bollywood Foodie.” Stream plus emailed recipes and shopping list (“Here for the Party”) for $40.
- If an option that includes the box is available and fits your budget, order it. The nested spice box alone, with its generous jars and beautiful design, justifies the purchase. The Blue Apron-level pre-measured ingredients and recipe cards make playing along during the show easy and elegant.
- Figure out screen placement in advance. I balanced my laptop on the cappuccino maker I bought at a Larchmont Rotary tag sale years ago. You want your monitor—laptop, iPad, smartphone—within site of your cooking action.
- Don’t try this alone. You’ll be muttering to yourself as you juggle the cooking and you won’t hear the show. You’ll fall behind as you measure out spices and get distracted by Bollywood movie clips and tales of Rao’s child-of-immigrants childhood. Have a sous chef.
- Sign on 15-20 minutes before show time. To a soundtrack of Bollywood music, you can prepare the chicken, chop the veggies, make the popcorn and savor the fabulous Mumbai Mule (a Moscow Mule with better spices). This will allow you to enjoy what’s happening onscreen as well as on the stove.
Bollywood Kitchen is currently scheduled to run through March 6th. Show times are 4:00 and 7:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Ticket prices range from $40 to $175 (see “Helpful Tips,” above). Running time is 75 minutes and the show ends with a delicious Indian meal you’ve cooked yourself—and a lot of dishes to wash.