Raleigh, N.C. — Shakespeare, beer and dim sum came together under one roof during last night in downtown Raleigh. The Aggregate Theatre Company presented "In Good Taste: Shakespeare at Brewery Bhavana."
Aggregate founder Matthew Hager had a vision to feature Shakespeare and food together. Months ago he shared his idea with Bhavana co-founder Vansana Nolintha, who offered to host the event. Nolintha and his sister, Vanvisa Nolintha, own the popular Laotian restaurant next door, Bida Manda, where Hager still works part-time.
The restaurant business is notoriously unforgiving, so the thought of closing a weekend night on a lark might seem a little crazy. As Nolintha explained, however, it suited Bhavana's philosophy well. How does this hodgepodge of a brewery, dim sum restaurant, book shop, and flower shop work?
We have a group of friends put what they love in the same room and invite the people they love and see what happens, Vansana Nolintha said. We want to create space for these communities to overlap, rather than say no to something like "In Good Taste" because of business constraints.
"Tonight is that moment you say 'yes' to life," Vansana Nolintha told attendees.
Earlier this year Hager founded the theater company despite, he said, the advice of well-meaning friends. He said he resisted till the call was too strong. "I didn't do it till I couldn't not do it any more," Hager said.
Hager's got a good thing going with his Aggregate creative team of musician Jade Murphy, stage manager Duncan MacGregor, fellow director Jaybird O'Berski, and actors Ben Apple, Vincent Bland, Jr., Rebecca Bossen, Richard Butner and Jessica Flemming.
"In Good Taste" accented Bhavana's four aspects with different scenes from the Bard interspersed with four courses from Bhavana's renowned menu. Logistically the night went very smoothly, a credit to the entire Bhavana staff, kitchen to servers.
The company toasted the night with a song inspired by Celia's line from As You Like It: "I like this place / And willingly could waste my time in it." You couldn't ask for a better motto.
The players got off to a rollicking start hailing "Drink." Their choice: the tavern scene from Henry IV, Part One, with loveable rogue Jack Falstaff swaggering up and down between tables calling for sack (sherry) and swapping insults with the future king. The old rascal's T-shirt aptly declared him "SACK religious."
The second performance took a daring turn, highlighting "Food" with the closing scene from Titus Andronicus. While revenge is a dish best served cold, here it was served as birthday cake, and no audience member's dining experience was harmed in the staging. Some even sampled the cake.
Witty banter from Love's Labour's Lost celebrated "Words," but notably so did Shakespeare's handwritten contribution to The Book of Sir Thomas More, a clarion call for empathy toward refugees.
"Flowers" finished the night with a flourish, actors racing around the tables arguing and wrestling as the hapless hexed lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The community overlap showcased in "In Good Taste," where we shed our differences to celebrate and share with each other what we love, is exemplary for our time. I like this place.