Choreographer Madame Jete (Suzanne Elyse Choplin) wears the pants--and the top--in the Mystery Café family.
On Friday, April 9, I had a speaking part in a play that set the audience on its ear. If I do say so, my theater training served me—my one-word speech gave way to one of the funniest points in the show, and the applause was off the charts. Plus, I got to lock bods with a total hottie for the better part of 30 seconds, both of us losing it at the absurdity of it all.
Meanwhile, my agent's phone hasn't rung like this since her divorce.
Yep—no business like show business, unless you count the restaurant trade. Combine them, and you get Mystery Café, San Diego's signature dinner theater and its zaniest alternative to mainstream performance. Imperial House restaurant's ragtag sketch troupe has been serving up whodunit westerns, thrillers, romances and such for 20 years, although it takes its cue from the ages. Greek mythology's Dionysus, after all, is the inspiration for ritual madness, with lotsa wine, food and theater thrown in—here, his lofty traditions are safe and then some. Mystery Café's current Night of the Laughing Dead is as nutty as they come, and the grub is as exceptional as the interactive fun.
Finicky director Zigfreee von Shtubble (James Pascarella, who alternates with Shawn Gravel) and his choreographer Madame Jeté (Suzanne Elyse Choplin or, alternately, Lauren Holiday) are casting for Lenny Moskowitz's “Werewolves & Zombies & Potatoes… Oh, My,” a horror film slated for a worldwide simulcast. The horror part is actually unfolding on the soundstage—dead extras keep showing up during rehearsal, and we have to unmask the killer. There's a knot of villains to choose from, including the glad-handing Kandy Kane (Liz Austel), a cop who knows her way around a bottle, and giddy Skip Tuck (Shawn Greiner / Spencer Townshend), who sports a litany of legendary visits to The Brass Rail.
You'll mull the mystery over one of four courses, including beef Jardinière boneless short ribs, chicken apple almond, chicken cordon bleu and vegetable lasagna (the first three come with a huge, twice-cooked baked potato and a broccoli-cauliflower medley). I was in the mood for meat, and I don't exactly regret the choice—the beef was as succulent and tender as you please; one false move and it woulda slid off my fork. Salad, tea, wine, beer, coffee, a herkin' piece of chocolate cake, a veggie dish and a kids menu round out the evening's choices (just like Zigfreee, this eatery doesn't miss a trick).
Of course, I won't reveal the perp. I'll only tell you that if you sit anywhere near the middle, there's a chance you'll be recruited as an extra (as was I). After a meal like the one you just had, you're only too happy to comply. Your performance, of course, won't begin to compare with mine—but amid this exceedingly friendly cast, you can't help but hold your own.
This review is based on the performance of April 9. Night of the Laughing Dead is ongoing at Imperial House restaurant, 505 Kalmia St., just west of Balboa Park. $59.50. www.mysterycafe.net. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.