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Rick Bayless's Cascabel prices itself out of its pleasures

The remounted dinner-theater spectacle enters the At-These-Prices zone.



I don't generally pay attention to ticket prices. I figure my job is to tell you what I saw at a given show, and how I took it, and leave you to decide whether it's worth the gate. But Cascabel is a special case.

You may remember Cascabel from its first incarnation a little more than two years ago. Then as now, it was a collaboration among Lookingglass Theatre ensemble member Heidi Stillman, acrobatic artist Tony Hernandez, and chef-culinary entrepreneur Rick Bayless. They put together a sweet tale—very (very) much in the mode of Like Water for Chocolate—about the magical things that happen when a mysterious chef starts cooking at a small Mexican hotel. His ceviche drives people to ecstasies. His beef tenderloin in mole triggers gravity-defying trysts.

Meanwhile, the audience sit at tables, eating ceviche and beef tenderloin in mole.

In 2012 a seat at one of those tables cost $200-$225—definitely high, but you could rationalize the expenditure by figuring that half was for bread and half for circuses, and both were exceedingly good. There were novelty factors too, foremost among them that the mystery chef was played by Bayless himself.

This time around the main rate is $300. Which is to say, whoa. The fee may be justified on economic grounds, I don't know. But on opening night it felt as if a psychological frontier had been crossed. We'd passed over into the At-These-Prices Zone. At these prices, you ask yourself, shouldn't there be more menu options? And how come we're sharing common bottles of wine, water, and beer with the strangers around us?

It affects the theatrical experience, too. At these prices, narrative elements you might otherwise accept as charming foolishness begin to look plain sloppy. You find yourself asking, Why doesn't anyone recognize the mystery chef, since he's not disguised? Why (other than that it would cut a two-hour show by about 110 minutes) can't he skip all the seemingly unnecessary intrigue and just reveal himself?

Where Cascabel remains at-these-prices-proof is in the physical work: Acrobatics by Hernandez, Lindsey Noel Whiting, and Genevieve Drolet; clowning by Daniel Passer and Lauren Katz; flamenco by Chiara Mangiameli and guitarist Carlo Basile—and, especially, a steamy pas de deux on a pole by Heloise Bourgeois and William Underwood. Without them, you'd have to be an awfully big fan of Bayless to feel like you got your money's worth.

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