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Rick Bayless, Lookingglass serve up mouth-watering theater treat

“Rick Bayless Cascabel: Dining Daring Desire” features Rick Bayless as Cook  ChiarMangiameli as SenorLookingglass Theatre.

“Rick Bayless in Cascabel: Dining, Daring, Desire” features Rick Bayless as the Cook and Chiara Mangiameli as the Senora at Lookingglass Theatre.

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◆ Through April 29

◆ Lookingglass Theatre at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan

◆ Tickets, $200-$275 (show and food)

◆ (312) 337-0665;

Updated: April 30, 2012 8:08AM

For decades now, restaurants have been the primary form of theater enjoyed by most people. But with “Cascabel,” the elaborate hybrid of high-end food, dazzling circus acts, mostly comic storytelling, and superb music and dance, Lookingglass Theatre has devised a whole new form of entertainment that might well be dubbed “the full immersion sensory experience.” And just as New York’s Public Theatre once was able to bankroll itself on royalties from “A Chorus Line,” Lookingglass might find “Cascabel” to be its ticket to a golden nest egg.

Of course the recipe is exceedingly tricky and might not even be reproduceable. But by way of co-creators Rick Bayless, Tony Hernandez and Heidi Stillman, here is how it goes:

Take Bayless, Chicago’s renowned master chef of Mexican “art” cuisine, and place him in an onstage kitchen where he very quietly but industriously chops and stirs and creates a subtle heat. He is the newly arrived Cook at a beautiful Mexican boarding house who has come to work the miracle of reigniting the passion of the Senora (the flamenco-driven Chiara Mangiameli) who owns the place and who for many years has been in deep mourning for a long-lost love. (Apologies, Mr. Shakespeare, but let’s just put it this way: If mole be the food of love, pour it on, especially if it happens to surround a sesame-topped beef tenderloin that melts in your mouth, along with bites of black bean tamale and braised black kale. In fact, give us excess of it, especially if that mole bears all the hints of chocolate, cinnamon, chile, nuts and dried fruit in Bayless’ concoction.)

True, the Senora resists all the Cook’s handiwork. But let it be said that his “inspirational inhalations” are not wasted on the rest of his audience — the 150 guests who gather at long communal tables in the hacienda’s grand courtyard and along an upper balcony. They are exceptionally well fed, starting with margaritas and spoonfuls of guacamole and crab atop crushed tortilla chips; moving on to a divine tuna ceviche perched atop passion fruit (with an ingenious use of popcorn for the crunch factor), followed by the beef, and then, for a grand finale, a slab of chocolate cake filled with Oaxacan chocolate cream and topped with blood orange icing.

But beyond the food and ambience there are other forms of magic as the eccentric boarding house staff engages in a bit of taste-testing and is driven to engage in some hilariously erotic escapades, and, more crucially, to perform a series of absolutely astonishing circus feats.

For sheer nail-biting bite, consider the Houseboy (mind-boggling work by circus maestro Hernandez), who decides to change a tomato-stained outfit by walking back and forth along a clothesline, shedding one set of clothes and putting on another, balancing high above a table of diners. For designer water keep your eye on the Bathing Chica (the gorgeous contortionist Alexandra Pivaral, decked out in a fuchsia lace swimsuit), who twists her body like an octopus as she balances on the rim of a bathtub.

For unique banana-flavored, mouth-to-mouth juggling antics you will not find two more fully ripe acrobatic comedians than the Gardener (Jonathan Taylor) and his volatile Wife (Anne Goldmann).

And for sheer breathtaking beauty — pure aesthetic nutrition — there is an incomparable tensile steel-like, cantilevering acrobatic pas de deux performed by the Solitary Travelers — Nicolas Besnard and Shenea Booth. Astounding.

Filling the room with gorgeous sound throughout is Carlo Basile, a masterful guitarist. Adding spice at every turn is the Maitre d,’ played with enormous charm and guile by Jesse Perez, and Lindsay Noel Whiting, who thinks nothing of spinning from a chandelier or pouring wine from a trapeze, as the Senora’s spirited Daughter. Thomas J. Cox is the arrogant Suitor who doesn’t stand a chance.

Designer Brian Bembridge has created an entire architectural environment rather than a set, and it is beyond splendid, with costumes by Mara Blumenfeld and Lijana Wallenda Hernandez adding color and sex appeal.

True, the story here is minimal, but the food and circus are maximal. And you will leave the boarding house known as “Cascabel” in a state both satiated and euphoric.

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