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Rick Bayless, Lookingglass prepare a new kind of dinner theater

Rick Bayless descends stage Tuesday announce 'Cascabel' his upcoming productiwith Lookingglass Theater. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Rick Bayless descends to the stage Tuesday to announce "Cascabel," his upcoming production with Lookingglass Theater. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 10, 2011 2:27PM

Think of it as a new (and decidedly edible) take on “Like Water for Chocolate.”

For one month this spring (March 23-April 22), Rick Bayless, the Chicago restaurateur (Frontera, Topolobambo, XOCO), and a master chef of Mexican cuisine, will team up with Lookinglass Theatre to deliver what he says will be “dinner theater unlike any you’ve experienced before, in which all the elements are interwoven.”

In a new show called “Cascabel,” devised in collaboration with circus artist Tony Hernandez and writer Heidi Stillman, Bayless will serve up appetizers and a three-course dinner in which “food will be a leading character, evoking memories and emotions, and bringing people together.”

Theatergoers will be seated at long refectory tables on the Lookingglass stage — set up to suggest the courtyard of La Cascabel, a boardinghouse in 1940s Mexico where the story unfolds. The tale will spin around the depressed senora who runs the place, and the new chef who attempts to lure her back to life (and love) with his food. A bumbling maitre d’, an acrobatic gardener and a tightrope-walking sous chef all will be part of this mix of food, circus acts and love story.

At Tuesday’s press conference announcing the project, Bayless arrived onstage perched on a hoop lowered from the theater’s rafters. (“I grew up doing theater, my wife loves theater, and my daughter is studying theater at NYU,” he said. He also, of course, is a well-practiced television personality who hosts PBS’ “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” and won Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.”)

Hernandez, who flew in from Las Vegas — where he is currently performing in “Absinthe,” the circus spectacle at Caesar’s Palace — easily juggled a large cooking knife, an apple and an avocado.

The “Cascabel” production (the name evokes a small, round chili pepper with seeds that rattle) has involved extensive discussions with the city’s Department of Water Management (Lookingglass is located in the Water Tower Water Works facility at 821 N. Michigan). There will be no live fire in the show — only electric convection ovens — with the food prepped at a catering facility and finished in the theater. (“We wish we could have a live flame, but we will find ways of suggesting that,” said Bayless.)

There is a catch in all this, of course. There will be only 24 performances with 150 theatergoers at each show, and tickets will go on sale Sept. 27 for subscribers only. Whatever seats might be left over will be sold (at a higher price, based on demand) beginning Oct. 18. (The three-show season series includes John Musial’s “The Great Fire,” Ed Schmidt’s “Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting” and the original musical “Eastland.)

Subscriber tickets for “Cascabel” will be $180-$205. Phone: (312) 337-0665 or visit

Might this production be a prototype for a larger Las Vegas operation?

“Frankly, we are still working out the logistics at Lookingglass,” Bayless said, grinning.

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