Spring 2001

Architecture and Dessert

First eating, then morality

Mark Sussman

Contemporary practitioners of the nineteenth-century parlor genre of toy theater, normally confined to the dry media of paper, cardboard, and balsa wood, have wondered about the possibilities of the culinary arts for miniature theatrical expression. In his appreciation of the miniature theater, G. K. Chesterton writes: “By reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events.... You can only represent very big ideas in very small spaces.” Conceptual grandeur in inverse proportion to architectural scale.

Pastry, candy, and cake would seem to offer the most structurally stable edible materials for a miniature architecture of the stage. Could we fashion baroque opera in meringue and spun sugar? Might the cake serve as a platform for the staging of ideas, great and small? What would a Brechtian cuisine look like? The toy theater revival, now in its tenth year, gains momentum; but it has yet to cross the thresh-old of the edible. Or has it?

“Erst kommt das Fressen,” wrote Brecht, in his most famous proverb. “Dann kommt die Moral.” First comes the eating, then the moral. Critic Fredric Jameson has addressed the compressed literary form of Brecht’s maxims, a style that recalls the direct, minimal language of the Bible and which the playwright used as a means of political address through epic dramaturgy. Minimal narrative, only gestus.

Sebastian Brecht, grandson of the playwright, is a chef, a workaholic artist using flour, sugar, and chocolate. His confections are light, complex, sublime. Now, commissioned by Cabinet, he has made a dessert in homage to his playwright grandfather: dental moldings of Brecht’s teeth filled with 1.6 ounces of white chocolate clenching a cigar made of one and a quarter ounces of the dark stuff. Bertolt’s famous cigar functioned as a sort of prop on which to hang the cryptic proverbs and startling idea-crystals delivered to arrest thought and estrange the drama of everyday life and its myths of progress. Sebastian renders it here in a miniature tableau of the writer about to speak.

Sebastian Brecht's pastry “The Brecht” is here.

Mark Sussman teaches at New York University and is co-founder of Great Small Works, a puppet theater company based in New York City.

If you’ve enjoyed the free articles that we offer on our site, please consider subscribing to our nonprofit magazine. You get twelve online issues and unlimited access to all our archives.