The Tasters pictures dystopia—with a gourmet twist | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The Tasters pictures dystopia—with a gourmet twist

Political prisoners swallow their pride (and maybe some poison) in Rivendell's world premiere.

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The gulags in Meghan Brown's world-premiere dystopian fable, The Tasters, resemble plenty of real-world hellholes that confine political prisoners, save for their spectacular dining options. Chained to metal desks, three captives (Daniella Pereira, Paula Ramirez, Shariba Rivers) sample extravagant meals prepared for the upper echelon of a loathed authoritarian regime, who've become popular targets for poisonings by famine-ravaged dissidents. When a captured revolutionary figurehead initiates a hunger strike, Brown takes her metaphorically-rich premise to some unexpected heights that speak to the current global political climate, and more provocatively, gender dynamics at large.

Devon de Mayo's production for Rivendell Theatre features plenty of charged and thought-provoking scene work, particularly between a belligerent commander (Eric Slater) and Ramirez, whose character walks a tightrope that hovers between base, often humiliating survival tactics and the risks she's willing to take to secure a less bleak future. Rivers is similarly compelling as a revolutionary whose worldview has tipped over into moral relativism. Broad depictions lambasting the overzealous passion of idealogues, alongside some unusual design choices, lend some scrappiness to the production that amplifies the excesses of allegorical theater. At times, those choices make for an odd pairing with Brown's dialogue and story, but The Tasters is the good kind of messy—creatively outlandish and guaranteed to leave inquisitive audiences with a lot to chew over.  v

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