Cooking as live theater: Geffen bets on 'Bollywood Kitchen,' murder and magic

Deborah Vankin
·4 min read
Helder Guimarães' next magic and storytelling show, "The Future," opens on Dec. 9, 2020.
A Geffen Playhouse image has magician and storyteller Helder Guimarães coming to the table (five times over) with more card tricks and stories in a new virtual show, "The Future," set to open Dec. 9. (Jeff Lorch)

On the heels of its wildly successful interactive magic and storytelling show “The Present,” the Geffen Playhouse is expected to announce Tuesday the next slate of online productions in its popular Geffen Stayhouse series, including a follow-up magic show called “The Future.”

Two other new virtual shows also will be interactive: “Citizen Detective,” a murder-mystery in which audiences will be called upon to help solve a real cold case from 1920s Hollywood; and “Bollywood Kitchen,” in which filmmaker and cookbook author Sri Rao will guide viewers in the preparation of a traditional Indian feast while regaling them with stories of growing up in Pennsylvania with his immigrant parents. He’ll also share snippets of his favorite Bollywood films.

Audience interaction and an intimate sense of community, Geffen Artistic Director Matt Shakman said, are the key ingredients in all Stayhouse productions.

“Each show needs to pull you into the experience,” Shakman said. “Sitting in a dark theater watching a narrative unfold, live, is very different from watching it in your house with your kids in the next room and emails popping up on your phone. How do you get audiences to fully engage? We’re not competing with TV and films. We want something that’s live, human and has that level of interactivity.”

The Geffen wouldn’t reveal much about “The Future,” written and performed by Helder Guimarães, whose just-closed "The Present" was extended three times. But the theater did say the show will be more technically and narratively ambitious, with a type of choose-your-own-adventure element. As Guimarães weaves magic tricks and illusion, he’ll again bring audiences — 50 households per show — on a storytelling journey, this time partly taking place in the South of France and centered on a friendship he had with a professional gambler.

The show will again be directed by Frank Marshall, and audiences will again receive a box of mystery props in advance to be used in the trickery. Previews for “The Future” start on Dec. 4, and opening night is Dec. 11. Tickets are $85 to $95 per household.

Shakman said he was surprised by the runaway success of “The Present.” Guimarães performed more than 250 shows between May and the grand finale, which was livestreamed by more than 6,000 households Saturday. Throughout its run, the show shipped mystery boxes to audience members in all 50 states and 30 countries.

“When we started talking with Helder, it seemed like an exciting adventure and a risk, but we did not expect it to hit,” Shakman said. “You know, how do you create theater on Zoom! But his charisma mixed with the interactivity that came from the mysterious package that was mailed really allowed the theater to reach out from the computer and pull you in.”

“Citizen Detective" is written and directed by Chelsea Marcantel. The 24 participants in each show at times work together or break into groups on Zoom to weigh the evidence and scrutinize real-life suspects in order to solve the murder. The production's host will be in touch with audience members in the days leading up to the show, at which point participants will be asked to take a short “personality survey quiz” to determine which detective squad they end up on.

Previews begin Nov. 10, and the show officially opens Nov. 18. Tickets are $55 to $65 per household.

“Bollywood Kitchen” is written by Rao and directed by Arpita Mukherjee. It’s produced with New York-based Hypokrit Theatre Company, for which Rao developed an early version of the cooking show.

Tiered ticketing allows audiences to experience "Bollywood Kitchen" in various ways. They can buy a streaming-only ticket and watch Rao cook, or they can opt to receive a “Bollywood Box” filled with Indian spices and a shopping list, among other things, so they can cook alongside Rao.

A limited number of especially committed foodies may choose a “Chef’s Table” ticket that will allow them to interact with Rao and ask questions as they cook. They also will receive a temporary link to rewatch the show as well as an autographed copy of Rao’s cookbook. Previews begin Jan. 15, and the show opens Jan. 23. Tickets are $65 to $250 per household.

The Geffen announced earlier that magician and New York Times crossword maker David Kwong’s virtual show, “Inside the Box,” has been extended through Jan. 3. The show's initial run sold out within minutes; before the official opening Oct. 8, an eight-week extension sold out in less than a day.

Shakman said the Stayhouse success speaks to the socially distanced moment we’re in.

“It shows us,” he said, “people are hungry for connection and narrative.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.