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Cast members of The Caro Savanti Experience. L to R: Mandy Bean (Megan Greggs), Darren Marshall (Caro Savanti), and Mike Yow (Matthew Greggs). Photo: Rodney Smith (Tempus Fugit Design)
Happening for one more weekend, The Caro Savanti Experience, now playing at Magnetic 375, is a sweet, funny, and in the end very touching play that follows the manic highs and lows of the lovable title character as he tries to translate his bizarre culinary visions to the masses. Written by Jim Julien, directed by Elliot Weiner, and starring Darren Marshall as Caro Savanti, it's a lighthearted romp that will leave you feeling like you just had a lovely dessert.
The action opens with two businessmen traveling from Charlotte to Asheville to check in on how infamous restaurateur Caro Savanti is doing in his newest venture, an experience-oriented restaurant in Asheville. When they get to town, they are joined by a television crew filming a pilot episode of a potential reality show about the chef. The play follows these characters and the restaurant staff and diners through one night of madcap cooking, eating, fighting, and, ultimately, love.
The title character, Caro Savanti himself, is the show's shining star, and is alone worth the price of a ticket. I could probably just watch this character talk to himself for an hour. Marshall embodies Savanti fully, whether he's throwing a tantrum or just raising an eyebrow. Every character in this show is larger-than-life, but Savanti's histrionics are absolutely the highlight of the show. He manages to be both ridiculous and believable all at the same time. Importantly, he's also lovable. This guy might be insane, but I was rooting for him the entire time, and I can understand why his staff adores him in spite of his temper and his strange ingredient request (yak urine, yum! After all, it is sterile!).
Several members of the supporting cast help the action along and give us another perspective on Savanti. The most notable among these is his assistant and right-hand (wo)man, Pilar Velasquez (Kristin Aldrich), a take-no-prisoners Cuban who can be sweet or fiery depending on what a given situation requires. Pilar provides a nice foil to Savanti, who maintains a sustained state of mania the entire time. Her endless devotion to her boss and his vision was an especially sweet and humorous part of the play.
Also in a supporting role for Savanti is Bernie (Julianne Arnall), a wide-eyed chef in Savanti's kitchen whose plucky optimism is shaded with a great deal of naivete. Of all of the characters in the play, she seemed the most "Asheville" to me. She's a no frills, happy-go-lucky, unpretentious sort of gal who would seem equally at home slinging pints behind the bar at Dirty Jack's.
Megan and Matthew Greggs (Mandy Bean and Mike Yow) are the quintessential Asheville tourists, in from small-town Illinois to celebrate their wedding anniversary in Savanti's dining room of horrors. They're plucky, chipper, and eager, sweet but clueless, and they ultimately teach the chef his greatest lesson.
The rest of the cast and the frame story, which involves the reality tv show filming and the businessmen in from the big city, fell a little flat for me at times. Of these characters, the oafish Randy (Travis Kelley) was the most convincing. He plays a lumbering dolt, and I particularly enjoyed his constant mispronunciations of Pilar's name (I'm pretty sure he pronounced it differently every time). Barry (Jason Williams, also the lighting designer for the show) is the epitome of an awkward nerd, but the awkwardness was almost painful at times. TV camerawoman and documentarian Ronda DeRoy (Jenni Robinson) had great energy, but was so crass at certain moments that I found myself checking out a bit because I just wasn't convinced (granted, I have never met any reality tv personalities, and I imagine that people like this do exist).
Other characters (including DeRoy) have their own epiphanies over the course of the show, but because my eyes were glued to Savanti I found it a little hard to care. Lucky for me, the play's focus is also squarely on him. When he finally realizes the true "missing ingredient" from his dishes, we aren't necessarily surprised--but we are as happy as the Greggs, who, like us, get a truly delightful evening out in the end.
You can experience Caro Savanti for one more weekend at the Magnetic. It shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (February 25-27) nights at 7:30. Tickets are available online and at the door. Rush student tickets are available at the door if the show isn't sold out.