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A Bacon and Ants Sandwich, Please 

With a side order of sweet and sour silkworms

Wednesday, Apr 7 2004
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A very small fan has been diabolically positioned in front of the hotplate to spread the smell of bacon throughout the Exit Theatre. I am hungry, and the smell is maddening. I try to pay attention to the buffalo, the one with the bad Russian accent, playing piano; or to the large black cat with the red crinoline, painted toenails, and half-lidded eyes cleaning herself at the front of the stage; or to the giant blue bunny sitting in the audience behind me with a fifth of Jack Daniels between his knees. But the buffoons from Banana, Bag & Bodice are making a sandwich and they are captivating -- with their tall red fezzes, their pale, lumpy bodies, and their bacon. Their bacon. They watch it fry, expectancy and buoyancy animating their limbs as they cut the bread, slice the tomato, and tear the lettuce in time with the piano man/buffalo who teases the ivories under a rickety latticework of cutlery. The knives aren't the only dubious objects hanging above the players' heads. There are bundles, large plastic bundles dangling from the ceiling like body bags. I wonder ... about bacon. Then the cat stirs.

"My friend was the pig/ The pig," she intones with a sympathetic tilt of her great feline head. "But the pig is gone/ Is gone/ Gone to the pan/ Gone to the sandwich/ The pig was my pal/ Now my pal is the pork/ Hairless and faceless/ Oinkless and charred."

"Bacon Bacon," chant the Bodice buffoons from behind their kitchen counter. "Thin meat fat treat/ Had a pound, sliced it down/ Thin meat that I eat."

"Listen to their songs/ Listen to their chatter/ Listen to their bellies/ As the bellies get fatter," sings the Russian buffalo as he pounds the piano keys.

Sandwich, the latest offering from BB&B's Barmecidal playwright, co-founder, and star, Jason Craig, is a surreal musical about meat, love, and birthday knives.

"We want a birthday knife for birthday sad cat," explains the lumpy, expertly odd Jessica Jelliffe after she and Craig realize that Cat, played by Parnell Klug, has no claws with which to shred her sweet birthday bunny.

"I have birthday knife for birthday sad cat," assures the oily, piano-playing buffalo/knife-man created by David Malloy.

Dressed in their Sunday best rubber bands, Jelliffe and Craig return home with the shiny, new birthday knife to lure sad Cat down from the top of a ladder where she has been sulking. Then things get strange. Cat guts her giant birthday rabbit and eats the unborn babies she finds in its belly; Jelliffe crawls inside the rabbit's skin and sings the story of its life before it is pulled into the rafters; Cat and Rabbit dance; Jelliffe and Craig kill bugs, eat lettuce heads, and consider cannibalism; Malloy threatens a carrot; Jelliffe tortures a butterfly; Craig is transformed into a giant armadillo; and all song and dance routines end in a sandwich.

"No more nasty piggie," assures Jelliffe. "Here, just birdie, nice birdie sandwich."

Despondent, Cat lets her head fall across her paws.

"Nope. Is fish," corrects Craig. "Dumb senseless fish without sleepers or feelers."

Cat is unmoved as Jelliffe makes a grand gesture to replace the contents of the sandwich.

"Oh, ho ho!!" she cries. "Bug sandwich! Yes. Yes?"

"Worm?" suggests Craig.

"Would you liken lichen?" asks Jelliffe with fading hope.

Grotesque, whimsical, and bone-achingly funny, the final scene is delivered with an absurdist staccato that nestles inside my skull like ... the smell of bacon clinging to my clothes.

Tiny tiny parameces?

Matato and lettuce?

Mushroom and griss-grass?


"How 'bout ants?" asks Bethany Lingaas, reflecting the warmth of her yellow and peach hued kitchen. "Let's start with ants. Little black ants. Nothing exotic. Just sprinkle them over your cheese spread."

There are seven of us gathered in Lingaas' Noe Valley home but I am the only ento-eating virgin. The small group, composed of a grade school science teacher, a science fiction writer, a pharmacist, and three amateur entomologists from around the Bay Area, gathers a couple times a year to consume insects.

"If it has six legs, we'll eat it," says Fahd Salehieh. "Even if it doesn't, we'll eat it."

"Usually [the dinners] are inspired by a new recipe or a willing victim," clarifies 43-year-old Barry Salvini, whose collection of exotic butterflies numbers nearly a thousand. "Tonight, we have both."

"Sweet and sour silkworms, and you," says Lingaas with a grandmother's smile. "Don't worry, I've got a good recipe."

Lingaas hands me a stack of glossy books: Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio; Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects by Julieta Ramos-Elorduy; Curiosities of Food Or the Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained from the Animal Kingdom by Peter Lund Simmonds; Strange Foods: Bush Meat, Bats, and Butterflies: An Epicurean Adventure Around the World by Jerry Hopkins; and tonight's guide, Eat-A-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon.

"And I have a good source for silkworms," says Salvini.

I peer into the Tupperware container where three inches of crusty, gray-white worms lie entwined, entwining.

"Start with some nice ants, though. Just sprinkle them on your cheese," encourages Lingaas a second time.

I spread the ants onto a thick piece of dark rye covered in garlic rouille, carefully imagining the bugs to be pepper.

"Tastes like pepper," I say.

My hosts smile.

"Where'd you get them?"

"Pantry," says Lingaas. "Pesky buggers.

"Now, I don't recommend eating bugs unless you've raised them or know who has, 'cuz you just never know about pesticides and parasites and whatnot, but I've had really good luck in my pantry."

Salehieh rolls his eyes but doesn't skimp on the ant topping as Cheryl Hurvis puts out Chex party mix accented with deep fried crickets. To my relief, deep-fried crickets just taste deep-fried.

"No different than eating calamari, right?" asks Salvini. I nod.

"Entomophagy is practiced all over the world," says Salehieh, popping a handful of crispy crickets in his mouth. "Not just by 'primitive' peoples. Certain arthropods are considered delicacies. It's just a matter of rearing. If it's what you're raised with, it's no different than putting a raw oyster in your mouth."

"Of course, if it were no different for us, it wouldn't be much fun, now would it?" says Salvini with a wink. I smile weakly, eyeing the cream of katydid soup.

To my relief, the katydid is indeed creamy. There's not a lump in the batch. In fact, the soup is marvelous, kind of nutty, with a mellow aftertaste. I find myself using bread to mop my bowl.

"She's our best cook," points out Hurvis.

"Nutmeg," says Lingaas with a wink as she takes a swig of port.

It's texture, not taste, that's the problem with the sweet and sour silkworms. There's no meat-like resistance in the center of the sweet gelatinous nuggets.

"I think next time, I would cook them much more rare, so they would stay soft in the middle," says Lingaas, "but I didn't want to completely freak you out your first time.

I thank her and make ready for my departure.

"You're not going to stay for desert? It's fruit salad with wasp honey," says Lingaas as if it were my childhood favorite.

"How bout a larvae latke," jokes Salvini.

"We're going to watch MicroCosmos later," tempts Hurvis.

The final course of Sandwich will be served up Friday and Saturday, April 9 and 10 at the Exit Theatre. Sweet and sour silkworms can be served year round.

About The Author

Silke Tudor

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