“No veggies were harmed in the making of the show,” says Gersh Kuntzman, in an assuring tone during breakfast at Bagel Market.
We are right around the corner from a certain well-known, left-leaning neighborhood institution, which also happens to be the setting for his new musical, Murder at the Food Coop, co-written with Marc Dinkin.
The musical will debut as part of the The New York International Fringe Festival, opening August 13 at the Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (see full details at the end of the article). Kuntzman and Dinkman last collaborated in 2005 on the Fringe hit SUV: The Musical, a takedown of supersized car culture.
The plot? “Think Murder on the Orient Express, except this is set in the Food Coop,” says Kuntzman, a Windsor Terrace resident and columnist for the Daily News.
Such is the rich premise for this new work, a “whodunnit” which is sparked by the mysterious death of Doris Chiang Kai Shenkman, the founder of the Coop. Her dead body is discovered inside the “Gore 3000,” a freezer powered by yak manure.
After an early listen of some of the musical selections, it’s clear the collaborators are doing something far more thorough than a slap-dash spoof. “I’ll Make a Liberal Whack Job Out of You” and “Pot! The Herbal Solution” are both funny and savvy. “…Whack Job” is sung by the editor of the Coops’s Weekly Composter, a fictional version of The Linewaters’ Gazette.
“We’re making fun of the Coop’s dogma and morés,” says Kuntzman. “And I’m making fun of myself as well.”
While Kuntzman has been a Coop member for about two decades, co-writer Marc Dinkin was a newbie to the subject matter. Dinkin — a neuro-ophthalmologist — saw this as beneficial for the collaboration. “It’s healthy that we work together,” says Dinkin. “Gersh brings all of this background of the coop, and I can channel those ideas through our conversations. We’re able to take it beyond that specific place. It’s a love story, too.”
Detective Dick Johnson of the 78th Precinct is in charge of the investigation, and struggles with his outsider status as he gets to know the curious world the coop inhabits.
The musical uses both humor and character development to take on some of the more serious storylines that have taken place within the actual Park Slope Food Coop. “In The Freezer” is a love song of sorts which takes place between a Palestinian man and Jewish woman who have a hot, controversial, and clandestine affair with many a rendezvous in the Gore 3000.
The musical comes months after the real-world coop judicial system suspended four members for “disrupting or obstructing Coop activities” in a 2015 meeting which focused on whether products of the Israeli company Sodastream should be boycotted.
“We were debating over whether to have a debate essentially,” Kuntzman told Brooklyn Paper. “If you’re an outsider it seems ridiculous, but as a member it makes perfect sense.”
A previous controversy involved whether or not hummus and other Israel products should be boycotted.
“I want to punch a hole into the balloon of liberal self-righteousness,” says Kuntzman. “We take important things importantly. But I still feel this is a better alternative to ignoring issues.”
At the moment, no plans have been made for a Park Slope run of the musical. Kuntzman is more than open to the idea of performances in the neighborhood or elsewhere. “This play is immediately scale up-a-ble,” he says. “If someone wants to produce this show, we’d like to talk to you about it.”
“Really, we’re just a bunch of crazy people running around with rules that don’t govern over other supermarkets,” adds Kuntzman.
Because Fringe shows often sell out, we recommend you buy your tickets early. As the lyrics say, we’ll see you at a place “where thoughtful mass consumption meets hard work everyday, where it’s a safe assumption, there’s no hormones in your fish fillet.”
The Theater Rundown: Murder at the Food Coop by Gersh Kuntzman and Marc Dinkin. Directed by Eric Oleson. Part of The New York International Fringe Festival
Where: Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente, Venue 2. 107 Suffolk Street (between Rivington and Delancey) in Manhattan.
When: 5 performances, with varying times and dates: Saturday, August 13 at 9:45pm; Sunday, August 14 at 5pm; Wednesday, August 17 at 7:15pm; Wednesday, August 24 at 2pm, Thursday, August 25 at 6:15pm
Ticket Information: $18, Purchase tickets online. (Note: No late seating)