DON’T MISS: Rituals Resurrected

By on October 11, 2017

Local playwright’s first play comes back to question humans’ inclination toward tradition.

JACKSON HOLE, WY — Local playwright Bob Berky’s first ever (and also award-winning) play is back and more relevant than ever.

Cooking the World is about ritual, Berky says. And it seems to him like “we’re in a time where even the rituals we thought gave us meaning are being eroded and sand-blasted.”

More specifically, the play is about the last two people on Earth, both chefs, living in a world with no more food. So they live “only on ritual,” Berky said.

The chefs, played by Berky and Frankie McCarthy, go through the motions of cooking, but there’s nothing to cook. And they’re hungry.

“What makes them hungry is memory,” Berky said.

The memory of food makes their stomachs growl.

“We use that term anyway, memory always creates hunger,” Berky said.

Usually, the saying is a metaphor. In this case it’s literal.

The two come to a point where they have to decide whether their ritual is enough to live on.

“Should they move on, or go to some other pane of existence, which we call death,” he said.

Sounds morbid. But it’s a comedy, Berky says. It has “some very funny parts, and some not-so-funny parts.” Such is life.

Berky is known for his physicality. He has taught clowning and physical theater courses to graduate students, choreographed shows for Dancers Workshop, and directed movement and clowning for New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Twelfth Night.”

Much of his humor exists not in the lines (though those are funny, too), but in the way actors’ bodies move on stage.

Cooking the World is no exception. How do you choreograph a show about cooking with no food? Dramatically.

But back to ritual. Cooking, and eating are the rituals in question here. But humans’ relationship with rituals at large is what Berky is really interested in.

“Ritual has always been a fascinating part of human existence,” Berky said.

Berky grew up in a military family, where rituals were abundant and rigid.

“There’s nothing more interesting than the rituals that are cobbled together over centuries to create justification for authority, rank, all the other things that we do,” he said.

The rebellious, theatrical person he is eventually began to question the traditions he grew up in.

“I looked at it and said, ‘what is the reason for this? Is it still useful? I’ve watched myself and others sometimes hold onto rituals that don’t have any meaning.”

That’s not to say rituals are bad, Berky says. On the contrary, certain beliefs guide people through life, and “ease some of the suffering that can happen.”

The danger, Berky said, is imposing rituals onto people with different ones.

Berky said that rituals are more than just the physical acts. They are the belief systems that provoke them. Religion, philosophy, morality—those are all rituals, and they manifest physical rituals.

“The performative rituals we do, they stem from the very deep feeling and belief,” Berky said. “The symbols that we have, they’re more than shape. They’re more than rhythm. They come from a much deeper place.”

And Berky sees many of America’s rituals butting heads today. Some are being pushed to the sidelines, but others are finding new strength. White supremacy, for example, is a ritual, Berky said.

“It’s a ritual of fear by those who are white,” he said. And that fear has recently emboldened more physical practices, like marching with tiki torches, bearing confederate and Nazi flags, and violence.

“The humor of that is, if you check their DNA, they’re probably not as white as they think they are,” Berky said. “The serpent comes around to bite its own tail.”

Cooking the World won the Kennedy Center’s “New American Play Award” in 1991. It’s short—don’t count on an intermission; there isn’t one—but poignant. The kind of show Berky would have brought his son to as an older kid to discuss afterwards. And now, 27 years after the show’s debut, there’s still a lot to discuss.

“It’s actually rather timely, considering what’s going on,” Berky said. PJH

There are two chances to see “Cooking the World”: One at 7:30 p.m. Friday, another at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Both performances are in the Black Box Theater at the Center For the Arts. Tickets are $15, and are available at OffSquare.org.

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