The Catamounts and DCPA Off-Center present a virtual show that’s in some ways better than the original live version

Theatre companies benched by the bug have been trying gamely to come up with ways to translate the unique connection live performances offer with online versions, with mixed success. But on Super Sunday, we relegated the game to the Tivo and had a fun time with The Whiskey Tasting with our bartender/actor Max.

I’d experienced the “live” Tasting in 2019, at a makeshift bar somewhere in the bowels of the Denver Center. It was just me and one of my sons with bartender Sam, part of the DCPA Theatre Company’s Off-Center “Between Us” lineup. It made for a curious, educational and unusual afternoon as we sipped different whiskeys and Sam guided us through a series of mini exercises to tease some life details out of us in pursuit of better understanding. (Indeed, I learned a few things about my son I hadn’t know before.)

This year, Off-Center teamed with The Catamounts to produce a Zoom version of the show. Participants pick up a flight of four whiskeys in tiny bottles in advance, along with a packet of stuff. Jumping on the Zoom with my wife and two other couples and our bartender, we found ourselves in something of a dinner party, where the only thing on the menu was whiskey. Like many things of this nature, the initial interactions were stilted but, with the help of the effervescent Max, we were soon happily traveling together in our Zoom reality.

bartender max

Jaxon Maxwell as Bartender Max with one of the four envelopes used in ‘The Whiskey Tasting.’

Whiskey therapy

Conceived by The Catamounts’ artistic director Amanda Berg Wilson in collaboration with playwright David Jacobi (who also wrote the script) The Whiskey Tasting is highly interactive little spin into a whimsical world that’s a true pleasure to visit. Whiskey is the focal point, but the show is largely about experience, immersion in something pleasurable, and taking the time to savor not only this poignant liquor, but new friends as well.

With two other households on the Zoom, Max asked that we sorta forget we knew each other and take the journey as strangers. Through four different whiskeys (Irish, Scotch, American and Japanese) and a few conversation-starting exercises, Max got us to open up about things like who we are, where we came from, what “home” means to us and, of course, how we experienced each whiskey.

It’s hard to overstate how ideally suited Jason Maxwell is as the Bartender Max. With a big old beard, an even bigger smile and an intense interest in each and every one of us, Maxwell exhibited that uncanny ability to get a small group of strangers totally at ease within minutes, freeing all of us up to focus on the experience at hand. (Other bartenders in the run include Leah Cardenas and Rhianna DeVries.)

Along with the tasting element, there was also a hint of therapy as we talked about childhood, favorite things and other life details while Max listened with intense focus. If being truly heard is missing at all in your life, this would be a good place to get a dose of it!

It’s not easy to transfer live theatre to the Zoom stage, but this is one particular show that makes the transition pretty easily, losing none of its impact from the live version.

The Whiskey Tasting is enjoyed from your own home — the ultimate socially distanced safe place. You just have to pick up the flight of whiskey (in tiny bottles) from either the West End Tavern in Boulder or The Post Denver. I was happy to grab some of the Post’s fried chicken while I was there, an excellent preamble to the whiskey tasting ahead.

As we wait for live theatre to return, a visit to The Whiskey Tasting is an excellent way to remind us of the power of performance and interactive experience, even if it takes place over the intertubes.