For reasons I won’t go into here, I was “encouraged” to attend the Mystery Dinner Theater in Tucson recently. The reviews weren’t all that great, so fearing the worst, I badgered Ms. Karen & Friend Rosemary into sharing my experience in the hope that their company would make the evening bearable.
The title of this evening’s play was Murder At The Vampires Wedding. According to the playbill, this troupe has been “Bringing Arizona Quality Entertainment for over 20 years. Over 400,000 People have Died Laughing at these shows.”
The first “issue” was acquiring tickets. Mystery Dinner Theater has a website, but you cannot order tickets online. So I called to order our 3 tickets ($42 each); credit card at the ready. First call in the morning: left a message. Second call that afternoon: left a message. First call the next day: left a message. Second call on day two: someone answered the phone and I ordered the tickets. Said answering person made it clear there would be no refunds. The charm assault had begun.
He also advised that the performance was no longer at the address given on their website, but instead had been moved to the Great Wall of China restaurant on Craycroft. I checked the online reviews of Great Wall. My trepidations quickly doubled.
Upon entering the Great Wall, we found an available booth near the bar. The ladies sat while I waited in a long line to order drinks as there was no waitress serving the bar area. Once we had our wine, we could observe the theater company setting up the stage, lighting, and sound system & adjusting their wardrobes & makeup. They seemed to know what they were doing and the show only started about a half hour late.
About 36 theatergoers were ushered into an anteroom of the restaurant that could only accommodate about 20 comfortably. Two long tables were set perpendicular to the stage so that two of the four rows of uncomfortable wooden chairs faced at a 90-degree angle to the stage; forcing the occupants/inmates to look over a shoulder to see the performance. The aisle in between the two tables was so narrow as to prove a hazard to dining service for the remainder of the night.
Six minutes into the performance I had a stiff neck that only got worse over the next two hours. Exacerbating the problem was the overly crowded room with insufficient A/C. Upon taking their seat, people immediately starting using their program for a fan in the vain hope of creating a breeze out of stagnant air. The aroma of human perspiration began to overwhelm all of the liberally-applied deodorant and perfume.
The play is about the impending wedding of Count Gladnomirr (Glad No Mirror) of Fangaveinnia, Europe and Nellie May Noodling of Catfish Crawls, Kentucky. What sitcom, I ask, could have more potential for hilarity?
Accompanying the bride all the way from the USA was Cousin Guppy, also a hillbilly. Eventually, it would be revealed that poor Cousin Guppy had been murdered. The weapon: a stake through his heart.
The wedding takes place somewhere in Eastern Europe, thus a gypsy, Madam Chinski, is also in attendance. M. Chinski was played by a very large man whose gigantic brassiere gave said gypsy’s bust line something to be measured in feet rather than inches.
We, the audience, were either members of the bride’s party or the groom’s. Not sure any of us figured out which. In the beginning we were instructed in how to respond to various cues from the stage, such as howling like a wolf whenever we applauded.
The actor, who at the beginning played Cousin Guppy badly, did a remarkably good Inspector Sphincter, whose accent resembled a Nazi character in a black & white MGM WWII movie circa 1953. Said Inspector arrived following the murder to suggest all the possible permutations as to the identity of the murderer. Clearly the funniest dialogue of an evening notable for its lack of wit.
Except for fleeting moments, this vacuous play did not rise to the level of hokey or slapstick. I’ve seen more entertaining skits by fourth-graders in an elementary school auditorium.
In its awfulness, the acting was amateurish & stilted; the dialogue often required prompting by the Count, who doubled as the quasi-director. The props appeared to be tattered remnants from a thrift store. The lighting & sound effects were usually out of sinc with the action & dialogue. The mic was nonfunctional much of the time.
Yet, some members of the audience laughed repeatedly. It took me a while to realize that it was not usually something the actors said or did that was prompting laughter. Rather, many in the audience had come with friends or family.
Why is this aspect of the performance important? Audience participation was nearly universal. The actors engaged various members of the audience in almost every part of the play. Often, there were 3 or four from the audience on stage. I “volunteered” to don a black cape and give my best impression of a vampire. So realistic was my short, but brilliant performance that the audience reacted in horror … or perchance they were merely dumbfounded.
Whatever. My point is this. Most of the laughter was directed at friends or family members on stage making fools of themselves, not in response to the inane dialogue.
At intermission, “dinner” was served by the cast. First they brought us our salads consisting of eight or so shreds of lettuce, 3 thin slices of cucumber, & 2 thin slices of green peppers, with a dressing that resembled Ranch. No croutons. No tomato. No onion.
The main course was a (mercifully) small portion of dry, chewy chicken wrapped around some grains of rice, with an Alfredo sauce that made the dish marginally edible. The sides were tiny quantities of carrots & overcooked broccoli.
Even though I had not eaten in over 7 hours, I could not finish this delicacy. Ms. Karen, however, pronounced it, “Not so bad. At least it was better than the dinner we had at the Double Tree the night we went to see Carnival of Illusion.” Faint praise, indeed. (Mind you, Carnival of Illusion was great fun. It was the completely separate dinner at the hotel that sucked.)
At the end of the play, the audience was given ballots upon which we were to write who we thought killed Cousin Guppy and state the motive. From the available clues, I couldn’t figure out who the murderer was, but Ms. Karen, who is far smarter & more gracious than I, did. All of the above comments to the contrary, she thought the performance was “Kinda cute, and a lot of folks seemed to enjoy it.”
So, I asked her if Mystery Dinner Theater met our demanding criterion for inclusion in Southern Arizona Guide: “Can we wholeheartedly recommend this (restaurant, hotel, performance, whatever) to our friends & family?” To which she responded, “Well sure, if they don’t have anything better to do.” Like I said, she’s more gracious than am I.
Mystery Dinner Theater: definitely recommended if you don’t have anything better to do.
The new MMT telescope at the Whipple Observatory atop Mt. Hopkins in the Santa Rita Mountains.
On an unrelated note, in the next few days I will post on SouthernArizonaGuide.com my review of Stables, the restaurant at Tubac Golf Resort AND my photos from a recent trip to the Whipple Observatory in the Santa Rita Mountains east of Tubac. Subscribe (FREE) to SouthernArizonaGuide.com and you will receive both in our weekly email newsletter.
Upcoming in our newsletter will be features about our 3-day Adventure in Aravaipa Canyon; The 10 Best Bed & Breakfast Inns; & our ranking of the Best Restaurants In Southern Arizona for a Great Steak Dinner. Plus new features on Local History & several new slideshows featuring the beauty & cultural heritage of Southern Arizona.
Of course, if you subscribe to SouthernArizonaGuide.com, you already know our picks for the Best Restaurants in Tucson & Southern Arizona listed by type of cuisine and our choice for The 3 Best Mexican Restaurants In Tucson.
Next week we will be on vacation visiting friends & family in Oregon.