WEST JORDAN – Even if it hadn’t been my birthday (which it was), there was plenty celebrate at Poison Ivy Mysteries’ dinner theater production, Village Hauntings. I went with no idea what to expect, and after spending an evening in at the Colonial Village of Blackmarsh’s Harvest Moon Festival, I left wanting to grab a group of friends and go again.

Show closes November 10, 2012.

The evening started as we were ushered in to a designated room at Famous Dave’s. (Poison Ivy Mysteries also performs at Diamond Lil’s in Salt Lake and Madeline’s Steak and Seafood in Sandy). The facility provided plenty of space for the cast of six to interact with the audience. We were approached individually by each of the actors, and it was fun to improvise answers to their questions.

The night was full of unforgettable moments like when I mistook Sara Allred’s (Lydia Devenport) slice of pumpkin pie for an integral part of the show. I was informed that the village baker, a Ms. Marie Calendar, had prepared it, and Sherry Allred (Emily Worthington) offered to bring me a bite. I laughed and became a part of the village as I ate my individual forkful of pumpkin pie.

After the improvised exposition, the audience settled down with plates of barbeque while the actors began their prepared show. Brett Davis looked very much the part of Magistrate Charles Devenport as he and Troy Larsen (as Farmer Scoggins) introduced the Harvest Moon Festival. I enjoyed the joviality of both characters, especially when contrasted with the sinister Preacher Neville Hampshire (Jeremy Tuttle). Sara Allred brought an enjoyable angst to the character of young Lydia, daughter of the magistrate and unwilling fiancée of the preacher. I most enjoyed the moments when she directed her facial expressions straight to the audience in way that was neither under- nor overstated. While Spencer Rosenlof seemed less seasoned in improvisation, he was skilled and convincing as the young soldier Daniel Yourk, just back from the battlefield.

I will admit to being surprised the first time the characters broke into song. I had not anticipated a musical murder mystery dinner theater. While I’m not certain the music added to the overall show, it certainly didn’t take away. And although the lyric rhymes were terribly predictable, I found myself humming composer Jeff Parkes’s catchy melodies on my way out the door.

If you have never experienced this type of entertainment, you might be concerned about feeling overwhelmed by the opportunity to interact with the actors. Poison Ivy Mysteries did an excellent job of facilitating audience involvement without pushing too hard. The level of involvement was up to the audience member, and the actors provided directions and support when involving the audience. In fact, each table received a set of question prompts that could be used to begin questioning the suspects. You can receive plenty of clues for the who-done-it just by sticking to the questions on the cards.

Lighting and sound, provided by producer/director/writer Annelise Parkes Murphy and her husband Mickey Murphy, lent all the right support to an already strong show. I especially enjoyed the creative effects, which I’ll have to keep to myself in order to preserve the surprise.

UTBA reviewer Andrea Fife and her husband interact with Troy Larsen of the cast of Village Hauntings.

There is so much that could be written about the positive aspects of this experience, but there were a few logistic elements that momentarily distracted from my enjoyment. First, the Poison Ivy Mysteries website indicated that the show would start at 7:00. Arriving early as is traditional for attending theater, I waited in the Famous Dave’s lobby until a few minutes after 7:00, at which point seating began. Perhaps Poison Ivy Mysteries should consider changing the wording to indicate that seating begins at 7:00 pm.

In addition, I felt uncertain of the logistics surrounding seating and receiving dinner. While the Famous Dave’s personnel were accommodating and the dinner was delicious, the presence of non-costumed hosts pulled me frequently out of Blackmarsh village. I would likely have felt less displaced if I had read the provided program, which included helpful information including a “How Does This Work” section. Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to peruse the program until after the show began, because the characters of Blackmarsh started up conversations the moment I sat down. I may have enjoyed the initial moments of this murder mystery experience a bit more if I had been given an opportunity to orient myself.

The final concern came from my 6’3” tall husband who commented that for the taller patrons whose heads reach the level of the speakers, it was difficult to hear the suspects’ responses to questioning. He mentioned feeling relieved when the music was turned down near the end of the questioning phase.

But the energy of the actors, Annelise Murphy’s well-written script, and the great improvisational skills far overshadowed any small concerns. The night ended as the killer was revealed, and prizes were awarded to some of the patrons who guessed correctly. My husband brought home third prize: two complimentary tickets to Quick Wits Comedy Improv.

So go for the dinner. Go for the show. Go for the fun colonial interaction. Go to see pictures of yourself posted on Facebook. (How fun is that?) Go for the mystery. Go for the prizes. But if you get an opportunity, definitely go.

The Poison Ivy Mysteries production of Village Hauntings plays at three different Salt Lake County restaurants on most weekend evenings at 7 PM through November 10. Tickets are $40 and include dinner and the show. Visit www.poisonivymysteries.com for more information.

Brett Davis of the cast of Village Hauntings interacts with patrons.