try not to make eye contact with the hired help, who are on strike
less than half an hour after the grand opening of Chez Pantalone,
the arbiter elegantiae among Mission District puppet-supper clubs,
but social conscience (and the mendacious glint in the owner's
eye) gets the better of me.
are your complaints?" I ask the three frightful scrub boys
standing on my left with mismatched socks, tattered sleeves, and
terribly, terribly long noses.
are too many plates," laments one.
are too many floors," says another.
feeds us sock puppets!" cries a third, pointing at the corpulent
form of Mssr. Pantalone, who stands ensconced in a pinstriped
suit of the richest cabernet hue. "We can't eat sock puppets
all of the time."
puppets," explains Mssr. Pantalone, stepping out of the doorway
to stand between me and the picketing horde, "they are a
delicacy. Delicious puppets. You will see. Please, please, pay
no attention to these, ahem, men. Your table is waiting. Please,
right this way."
Arranged by the CELLSpace Puppet Cluster, and as advertised by last
year's patrons of Funky Puppet Supper, Chez Pantalone is at the
fine-dining forefront of "warehouse chic." Mismatched
couches and chairs complement wood-planked floors and high, raftered
ceilings, and, although red tablecloths, flickering candlelight,
and delicate arrangements of fall flowers and apples imply elegance,
some of the place settings are laid out on old trunks, end tables,
and large stools, conjuring memories of those longed-for dinners
at your crazy Aunt Millie's house. As the only other customer in
the house says, it's magical.
Abacus, the Pantalone house band, offers a mellifluous shower
of old-timey, slightly feral-minded jazz, but there's little opportunity
to enjoy the music before Bregella, the oddball maitre d', bustles
me upstairs and over a wooden bridge.
in the attic loft, bent over tables strewn with piles of buttons,
glitter, hot glue guns, pipe cleaners, ribbons, yarn, and tinsel,
are the evening's patrons, a collection of keenly dressed men
and women with their hands shoved inside old socks, talking to
each other in cartoon voices. Perfunctorily, I select a sock and
begin to apply buttons, in the hope of creating a big-eyed giraffe
with a soft voice, glittery eyelashes, and slender tongue. Sadly,
form often dictates function, and my sock becomes a Parisian sewer
rat named Maurice with buckteeth and a slavering lisp. Half an
hour later, I am, like the others, so engrossed in puppet conversation
that I am hardly able to pause for hors d'oeuvres -- organic tomatoes
stuffed with couscous and apple slices drizzled with tahini-maple
syrup -- that come by on platters. Only when a blatantly overdressed
woman begins complaining do I remember my real job. I watch as
another patron gently explains to the woman that, at Chez Pantalone,
one must make puppets in order to ask for one's food. Soon, after
the woman burns herself with the hot glue gun, I decide to take
course, Miss Fancy, whose name is Silvia, sits at my table and
begins complaining loudly about the lack of hors d'oeuvres and
bread. She demands water, which is spilled across her lap by a
flustered joker named Arlequino. Desperate for more floor help,
Zani, the head busboy, finds some scabs out back who are willing
to work for the evening. The grimacing, snarling scab-buffoons
enter the restaurant with lumpy butts, pointy heads, and murderous
looks in their eyes. They like Silvia, and her purse.
the Fou Fou Ha! Dancers perform a delightful clown cancan. Luckier
still, the plunger-happy buffoon busboys carry off my tetchy dinner
companion during the main course. Amid [the main course] a love
affair emerges between the head chef, Capitano, and Pantalone's
daughter, Isabella, whose hand is promised to a goblin-headed
restaurant chain investor. Contrary to Pantalone's wishes, Isabella
defends Capitano's use of organic foodstuff against the goblin,
who favors genetically modified fare. Using simple stick puppets,
[Bob] Hartman creates a humorous race between a tortoise and a
hare, and a harrowing battle between an ugly duckling and a cobra,
but it's his wolf -- a fast-talking, ear-cocking, tail-wagging,
smartass in tie and suspenders -- that makes technology (computer
animation or genetic engineering) seem pointless.
the time Capitano and Isabella are united and Silvia is served
on a giant platter with an apple in her mouth, everyone -- puppet,
buffoon, patron, busboy, and serving clown -- is in the mood to
celebrate. Mssr. Pantalone strikes up the band, and the crowd,
with sock puppets and children in tow, frolics across the dance
floor, leaving me to contemplate the tasteful tedium of future