Our Dinner with the Dead at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Sarah Kermensky
It's a dead man's party, who could ask for food?
​We had no idea what to expect with this weekend's dead-artist dinner party at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Would it be a goofy farce, or dreary and overserious? Would it be participatory, or would we be merely spectators? And how about the food?

Opening prelude: a table of small bites from Bar Bambino, including deviled eggs, leek and mushroom frittata, and buffalo mozzarella and tapenade on crostini. Promising!

Sarah Kermensky
Leek and mushroom frittata.
​These snacks, as well as jugs of lavender water and wild huckleberry and mint tea, bore subtle meanings within the event's highly literary framework. The conceit was that 12 dead celebrities, through an elaborate metaphysical contrivance/wormhole, had ended up at a dinner salon hosted by Virginia Woolf. Over the course of two hours, McSweeney's editor and poet Jesse Nathan held forth with imagined dialogue and dramatic interplay between the guests, told with a coffeehouse spoken-word flow. The words were interspersed with the freeform jazz of musician Chris Janzen.

Lest you think "How dreary," rest assured this was an accomplished piece of artistry. Janzen and Nathan have honed the piece over two years of intense collaboration, improved with the recent addition of a live band. Janzen's prose was sharp, diabolical, accessible, and obtuse, and the result was a moody melodrama for the intelligentsia (Billie Holiday's date is in the kitchen getting frisky with Virginia Woolf: quel scandale!) Though perhaps better suited for a smaller, more dimly lit venue, the piece nonetheless managed to draw you into its bizarro universe, not letting go for the duration.

But it wasn't really a dinner party. SFoodie is no stranger to the arts, and this was primarily an event for the mind, not the stomach. Don't get us wrong: The small bites, savory at the beginning and sweet at intermission, were totally fine. It's just that the actual food was secondary to the playacting, and we were hungry by show's end. Oh, the price of art ...

A vinyl version of the event can be purchased on Chris Janzen's website.

New York refugee Jesse Hirsch tweets at @Jesse_Hirsch. Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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