By the end of Meatball Séance, a double portion of spaghetti and meatballs has been dropped on the floor, bread crumbs and fresh herbs have been scattered throughout the room, five audience members have been rewarded with on-the-house drinks in remuneration for gigolo/gigola services rendered, the rest of us have lifted up our voices in a call-and-response incantation, and the air is rich with the savory aroma of grilled beef and the gentle harmonies of vintage Fleetwood Mac.
We are also ready to wrap our arms around the perpetrator of this messy mayhem and give him the biggest hug his marinara-splashed countenance will permit.
Playgoers familiar with John Michael's solo shows will not be surprised at this reaction. The writer/performer has cultivated a reputation for embracing topics too often left unspoken in polite society, or concealed behind superficial platitudes. His purpose is to exorcise these matters that we find so difficult to articulate through a self-depreciating humor that never trivializes his subject. Is it any wonder that spectators should feel gratitude at being relieved of the guilt exacerbated by euphemism?
Michael's mission isn't immediately evident. Each episode in this 65-minute presentation begins with our protagonist — attired in nothing but a ruffled pinafore and day-glo socks — proclaiming "I have a boyfriend!" and declaring his wish to share this happy news with his unconditionally supportive mother. To be sure, this venerable dame now sous-chefs in Saint Peter's kitchen, but her son is certain that, by preparing her signature recipe, her spirit can be conjured. So sincere is his belief that when he calls upon spectators to portray the auxiliary personnel necessary to implement his culinomantic scheme — the aforementioned boyfriends, for example — we are happy to offer our assistance.
Shy playgoers need not fear the kind of interactive aggression found at, say, Tony and Tina's Wedding. Volunteer duties are restricted to such line-cook chores as chopping greens, tending hibachi, and a modicum of PG-13 flirting, all proceeding only after Michael obtains the appropriate consent. This is no exercise in coy-and-campy posturing either, despite the geekiness of the persona evoked by its author, but a parable with a lesson to be learned from Mom's failure to manifest — even when granted the convenience of a willing medium — that sends us home elated and eager for a late-night snack.