Saturday, June 14, 2014

Murder Most Fowl

Murder Mystery Dinner Theater at Pellegrino’s Event Center

Rehearsal photo with Samantha Chandler, Dennis Rolly, Rob Taylor and Amy Shephard
Murder Most Fowl at Pellegrino’s Event Center in Tumwater is not high art; it is not profound or particularly thought-provoking. What it is, is a bunch of the Olympia area’s very best theater professionals getting together for a romp of pure silliness while sharing the fun with diners whose dinner in four courses is served in between the four acts of the play.
We were seated next to the stage with a friend and a Tumwater family consisting of a couple and their two daughters who were dead serious and meticulous in figuring out whodunit, so much so that one of them won the top prize. Yes, there are prizes every night. Ticketholders are given clue sheets and a chance to compete by guessing who the killer was, including motive and what clues were used. Between acts the actors circulate among the tables in character answering questions and dropping hints (or perhaps false hints to throw the amateur sleuths off base).
The play was written by Andrew Gordon, who also played the role of Walter, director and spokesperson for the Empire Shakespeare Company, with music by Bruce Whitney and lyrics by Scot Whitney, both of Harlequin Productions fame.
Heather Christopher with chicken

Dennis Rolly, Samantha Chandler and Andrew Gordon
The Empire Shakespeare Company is putting on a production of Hamlet starring the aging actor Terence Portman (Dennis Rolly), founder of the company but now a washed-up actor who drinks too much.
The actors in this play-within-a-play dive into a dress rehearsal with a live audience. Portman hams it up and makes up lines, thus frustrating Anthony White (Rob Taylor) the young actor playing Hamlet and someone off stage who keeps shouting “Call for lines. Don’t make it up.” That someone was either Alice St. Claire (Samantha Chandler) the show’s director or Betty Stamper (Amy Shephard) the company stage manager. I didn’t see which one.
The actors almost come to blows, and suddenly a member of the company drops dead, poisoned, and the remaining troupe members ask the audience to help them figure out who the murderer is.
Gordon’s script, if not for the audience participation, could almost be seen as a straight-forward murder mystery without a lot of comic elements. It is the actors who bring on the laughs with comical performances by Gordon, Rolly and Heather Christopher as Rachel Fowler.
There used to be a saying that any movie with Dean Stockwell in it can’t be all bad. Now I’d like to say any play with Rolly and Christopher in it can’t be all bad. I’ve seen more plays with them, separately or together, than I can count, and I’ve never seen one in which they were less than outstanding. I can now add Gordon to that duo.
Rolly is at his over-the-top, comedic best playing two different characters, descriptions of either of which would constitute spoilers, and Christopher is precious as the ditsy, spoiled daughter of the chicken restaurant king Ornett Fowler (played by Brian Obscuro). Gordon is also outstanding and equally over-the-top in his comic shenanigans as the self-important managing director.
In a more sedate and straight-forward role is Shephard as the company’s no-nonsense stage director — a nice surprise for me because I’m used to seeing her in musicals in which she is an exuberant bundle of energy.  Chandler as Alice St. Claire also plays it straight and is excellent, as is Taylor as the young actor playing Hamlet.
There was also singing with a nice solo by Christopher and harmony by a chorus with Shepard’s voice a standout.
Kudos to director Jenny Greenlee, stage manager Kris Mann and their cast of thespians for making this demanding project seem easy.
I enjoyed the play, the dinner, and the companionship of our table mates. My only complaint is I wish they had come around to take drink orders sooner.
I don’t know if the dinner menu will change from evening to evening. Opening night we started with an appetizer of Shakespearean Antipasto Skewers followed by a Bloody Dane Beet Salad; an entrée of Chicken Béarnaise, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Whole Green Beans. The dessert was Soused Claudius Champagne Cake. All tables were served the same meal but before serving they did ask if anyone had special dietary needs so they seemed prepared to accommodate.
Remaining shows are June 14, 20 and 21. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., Pellegrino's Event Center, 5757 Littlerock Rd. SW Tumwater.
Tickets: Call 360-709-9055, or come to Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen or Pellegrino’s Event Center to buy tickets – $60 general seating, $75 for front table seating. The cost of beer, wine and mixed drinks not included with ticket.
Advance tickets recommended.
2 for 1 Amazon Local deal available!  Two tickets for $75 -
Post script – There was a mock newspaper clipping inserted in the program with news about Empire Shakespeare Company and a review of their production of Othello. No one was credited with writing it, but whoever was responsible did a great job.

1 comment:

Tina O said...

Thank you, Alec!