The craft of making chocolate is a temperamental passion. Driven to capture all of its magical potential, a chocolatier pursues the creative process with an uncompromising attitude, even sometimes sacrificing what previously mattered as most familiar or cherished in their life. The chocolatier relentlessly pursues that perfect intersection of taste, texture, and purity of ingredients, despite the pressures or challenges from skeptics, naysayers and rivals with their own agendas.
The virtue of patience can be difficult to emulate, especially when one works with a product that can be as fickle as it can be wonderful. The art of making chocolate becomes the quintessential metaphor of a complex life.
With its elements of dance, theater and music, Thank You Theobromine, by SONDERimmersive, is a fascinating, enigmatic, captivating production. It translates the heart and mind of its production setting — The Chocolate Conspiracy shop, near the corner of 800 South and 300 West – into dramatic scenes that epitomize the aforementioned metaphors.
This unique, immersive show, which will continue to run on weekends through the earliest part of January, benefits from the skills and experiences of an excellent team of creative professionals. Graham Brown and Rick Curtiss lead the creative team that includes playwright and Sackerson producer Morag Shepherd, set designer Joe Wheeler and composer Nick Foster, who also is a member of the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble. Also, as mentioned previously in The Utah Review preview, it is A. J. Wentworth’s confidence and generous willingness to allow his tight two-story shop to be staged for the show.
The show’s unconventional nature is evident from the first moments as the audience, strictly limited to 30 members maximum, gathers under a tent just outside the shop. Each person is given a sheet of paper which reads:
“Have you ever felt like there are five different people inside of you? What if they all came out? Would they get along? Would they quarrel? What would they have to learn from each other? Let’s find out. Step inside. – The Chocolatier.”
Once the audience enters the shop, various actors swarm upon individuals, whisking them away or directing them to a location. From that point for the next 90 minutes, each member of the audience is destined for their unique experience. No one ever experiences all of the possible scenes that encompass Thank You Theobromine in one show, and, in fact, one might be encouraged to purchase tickets for a later performance to gather more pieces of this complex performing arts puzzle. But, for everyone, there is chocolate to be tasted throughout the show.
However, the audience does come into contact with all seven members of an outstanding cast, sometimes even in the most unexpectedly personal and intimate ways imaginable in a performance setting. At various points, we meet the characters of the five groups – The Hero (Michael Watkiss, who also works at The Chocolate Conspiracy), The Rejector (Rick Curtiss), The Altruist (Lauren Payne), The Libra (Rebecca Aneloski) and The Divine (Elizabeth Golden). But, there are two additional characters who dominate some of the show’s most compelling scenes – The Grandmother (Sarah Shippobotham) and The Kid (Bella Estrada-Brown). Tyler Fox also fills in during some performances.
Immersive theatrical experiences such as Thank You Theobromine really push the audience into blue ocean territory. Their creative producers have a penchant for not throwing branches to the audience, which has two options: Either swim or risk drowning. However, if one engages the experience by casting aside any hesitation, then, in the process of learning how to swim in this setting will bring its rewards – in personal connections and epiphanies along with tasting fantastic craft chocolate to boot.
Brown’s choreography pops out impressively, such as a scene in a car parked outside the shop. The audience member becomes the passenger accomplice in a simulated car chase with a rival. Meanwhile, the Altruist twists, flips and jumps from the front to the back of the vehicle, and through the window and on the vehicle’s roof. To accomplish this in such a tight difficult space was a stunner, frankly. Sometimes, the choreographed movement is positioned close enough to engulf the spectators, especially on the staircase or in a second-story room or outdoor patio. Foster’s soundscape scoring accentuates the production’s overall tone, augmenting the narrative heft effectively.
Movement and nonverbal cues frame so much of the story telling experience, such as in a card game where the betting chips are cacao beans. The direct eye contact from actors is intense, sometimes unsettling. There are moments when an actor whispers into one’s ears or grabs an audience member by the arm. Emotional moments range from The Divine’s strangely mesmerizing allure to The Rejector’s volatile leaps to near-madness. Scenes where either or both The Kid and The Grandmother are involved serve as worthwhile and elucidating emotional linchpins in the production.
Thank You Theobromine is a meta experience. A question that runs throughout the immersive experience persistently asks what we are willing to risk for our passion. The creative team that transformed The Chocolate Conspiracy shop into Thank You Theobromine demonstrates why taking risks, when they are not predicated on fears, gives us the opportunity to live the best story we really want for ourselves.
Performances continue every weekend on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and conclude Jan. 5. For more information and tickets, see the ThankYouTheo.com website.