Credit: Courtesy of Joy and Pang Productions

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Il Tuo Tavolo, one of the District’s newest pop-up restaurants, has a twist: You can only get a table there on Zoom. It’s the fictional setting of Love Story: A Meal in Five Courses, a new interactive theater production produced by Joy and Pang Productions. 

Opening March 5 and running through April 4, Love Story stars Rachel Hynes and Anastasia Wilson as Il Tuo Tavolo’s head chefs. Together they guide “guests” through a meal with thought-provoking questions about love, relationships, and intimacy. Each guest is asked to bring four things to the table: a bottle of olive oil, a favorite beverage, something sweet, and a lighter. What happens next flows entirely from the conversation between chefs and guests.

“We give a show, but we get a show every time,” Wilson says. “The show itself is pretty simple: We taste, we hear, we smell, and we do it together. Love Story does not exist without the guest. It really is their production.”

A love story doesn’t necessarily need to involve couples, and the creators of Love Story emphasize that their show is for everyone. As Hynes says, “You can come if you don’t have a partner, if you do have a partner, if you’ve never had a partner, if you never want a partner, if you’ve had many partners. You can come to the show—there’s a space for you.”

The performing arts, and theater in particular, rely on in-person experiences, and that atmosphere can be difficult to replicate online. While audiences have been reluctant to embrace digital productions—a survey from Limelight Insights by Shugoll found that while nearly 70 percent of respondents had seen an online production, only a third had paid for it—interactive works like Love Story have potential. 

“One of the things we love is a good time and community,” Wilson says. “That’s one of the oldest things in the world: the griot circle of storytelling, people being able to pass on knowledge, share, grieve, be happy, or just not be alone.” 

Love Story is a revamp of a sold-out iteration that ran in May 2020 and only allowed for an audience of one. Now, up to six people can attend a performance. Joy and Pang partnered with Sommer Street Pizza to deliver a multi-course meal to guests’ doorsteps to accompany the show. Each person interested in participating must purchase his or own ticket.

Dylan Arredondo serves as an associate producer for the project and spearheaded its partnership with Sommer Street. Prioritizing BIPOC-owned businesses, he reached out to 70 local restaurants, ultimately connecting with Sommer Street as Love Story’s restaurant partner.

Photo of Sommer Street Pizza by @dmcgphotography

Sommer Street is currently based out of EatsPlace, a food incubator in Petworth. They’re known for delivering frozen, lactose-free pizzas and jars of tomato sauce. On some weekends, you can find Sommer Street baking pizzas at other locations such as Supreme Core Cider Company and Atlas Brew Works.

“We always wanted to approach this by having each other’s backs as industries,” Arredondo says. As with the hospitality industry, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the performing arts. Data recently released by the Bureau of Labor shows that, nationwide, industry employment declined by 60 percent between January 2020 and January 2021. From April to July 2020 alone, 2.7 million people in the performing sector lost their jobs, according to the Brookings Institution. In D.C., the industry shed half its workforce from 2019 to 2020. 

Arredondo estimates that 35 percent of each $75 ticket goes to Sommer Street; the rest pays the creative team and associated production costs. “It really feels like we are meeting each other where we both need each other,” he adds. 

London Hitchman, owner of Sommer Street, agrees. “Seeing the show really gave me guidance as to how I thought people should layer in all the different flavors and then taste the final products,” he explains. “I think all the individual ingredients to my pizza can be seen in different ways, but once they come together in the form of a pizza, it’s a different bite or different taste.” 

Sommer Street’s origin story as a lactose-free pizzeria is also a love story. “I did it as a solution for my wife and our relationship, to be able to continue to eat pizza,” Hitchman jokes. She’s lactose intolerant, but he isn’t.

Ultimately, Love Story aims to offer audiences a little hospitality and togetherness. “I hope that we will bring a sense of connectivity to our audiences and relieve any isolation that people are feeling,” Hynes says. “I also hope that people will take the time to contemplate. How do I feel about relationships? What are the choices that I am making in my relationships? Are those the choices that I want to be making?” 

“There are so many types of love,” Arredondo says. “For every type of love, there’s a different entry point to the show.” 

Love Story: A Meal in Five Courses runs March 5 to April 4, 2021, with performances held Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are $74.99 and include meal delivery (available in D.C. and within 20 miles of D.C.’s borders) and access to a digital recording of the show. Patrons outside of the listed delivery range should contact dmarredondo@aol.com to learn more about delivery options. Learn more about Joy and Pang Productions on its website.