Geoff Sobelle, an American theater artist, is hosting a dinner party in an auditorium in Scotland. The stage is dominated by a large square table, complete with plates and cutlery. Around three sides of the table, twenty-four audience members are seated. In the center of the fourth side sits Sobelle, dressed in a waistcoat, serving wine, handing out menus, and taking orders. To the surprise of the guests, when a lady requests a baked potato, Sobelle produces a bucket of dirt and empties it onto the table. He then plants a seed in the mound, waters it, and eventually pulls out a large potato.
Throughout the show, Sobelle continues to entertain the audience with various skits. At one point, he withdraws into himself and silently indulges in a binge-eating session. He eats multiple apples, a bowl of cherry tomatoes, radishes, carrots, a generous amount of ranch, raw eggs, an entire onion, and even some bank notes.
Sobelle’s one-man show, titled “Food,” is described as a meditation on why and how we eat. However, apart from a brief discussion about our primal connection with food, there is little intellectualization. This performance is purely about silliness and the buildup of nervous energy in the room as Sobelle carries out his absurd actions with the focused determination of a surgeon performing a life-saving operation.
Sobelle’s background as a magician and clown is evident in his absurdist theater. He considers his body of work to be a giant practical joke, and “Food” aligns with that concept perfectly.
In the middle of the performance, Sobelle collects the guests’ wine glasses and then violently pulls away the tablecloth. To everyone’s surprise, underneath the table is not a dining surface but a field of dirt, transforming the set into a muddy landscape. A remote-controlled tractor moves across the terrain, and sheafs of wheat sprout from the ground. Toy trucks are handed to the audience members to play with around the perimeter of the table landscape. Sobelle climbs onto the scenery, sticks his hand in it, and strikes oil, resulting in tall buildings popping up.
The audience is bewildered yet charmed throughout the 90-minute performance, experiencing a childlike sense of wonder and reveling in the anticipation, awkwardness, and unease. The immersive setup creates unexpected moments, such as a theatergoer’s cellphone getting swept away when Sobelle removes the tablecloth. Sobelle’s demeanor as he returns the phone is both apologetic and vaguely affronted.
Sobelle’s comedy may lack intellect, but it possesses a timeless quality, akin to our primal love for eating. It draws humor from absurdity and grotesqueness, reminiscent of provincial circus troupes or competitive eating championships. In the refined environment of the Edinburgh International Festival, “Food” stands out as an ironic curiosity. It could be seen as Sobelle’s way of bringing low culture to the cosmopolitan elite, an unconventional form of altruism.
“Food” can be experienced at The Studio in Edinburgh until August 27th, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.