MIDVALE — When considering the spectrum of sub-genres that fit under the title of “theatre,” a few labels might come to mind: musicals, plays, children’s theatre, and dinner theatre. That’s right. Dinner theatre by no means fits snuggly into other labels. It surely deserves its own. The goals and approaches to a dinner theater production—or at least the goals of Utah’s Salty Dinner Theatre—are far from those of a typical play.
The company aims to create a night of escapism—a catchy story, lovable characters, and a healthy dose of humor and cheese—and they succeed on those accounts, but little else. I blame the script and the space for the majority of the problems. I saw the traveling show Bonnie and Clyde: A Love Story in a room filled to the brim with tables and chairs. (I would love to hear opinions from patrons who saw the show in other locations.) There was barely room for the patrons to walk around the room, let alone for actors to put on a show. I was amazed the actors never hit patrons as they ran back and forth across the room. It was disappointing that the space caused movement limitations, but the blocking overall seemed rather tedious even with the constraints. Too much time was spent on unmotivated rushing from one side of the room to the other, as if they were making it all up on the spot (which I’m sure to a certain degree they were) without the guidance of director Alisha Hall.
The production featured five actors, some of whom played multiple characters. I commend them all for their commitment to this campy rendition of Bonnie and Clyde, as each gave what seemed like every ounce of their energy and enthusiasm to making the show enjoyable. There were certainly a few humorous moments, and the energy certainly kept my attention. Clayton Barney as a loving but misguided Buck Barrow created the most believable character of the evening, whereas Madman as Frank Hammer and Sheri Gillies as Bonnie Parker often gave a little too much characterization for my taste. But again, dinner theatre is a unique genre and perhaps calls for a certain amount of overacting to be successful. The accents, though, were often forced and inconsistent. I did enjoy the moments when Buck and Blanche (played by Tonia Sayer) narrated the tale.
The script, written by Daniel Brassard presumably in development with the cast, was likewise ripe with weaknesses. It could only be labelled as a campy, fluffy story full of easy jokes. There lacked a solid plot or conflict; much of the substance, if you can call it that, was made of up jokes piled on top of overacting and the thinnest of plot lines tying the jumble together. The play was broken up by two intervals—one for dinner and one for dessert—which made the whole evening seem an act too long. The intervals were filled with songs sung (very well) by the actors (making me wish the evening had been a musical, instead) and competitions waged against audience members that oftentimes gave the feeling I had walked into a somewhat awkward office party. The ending seemed contrived and like something added simply because convention required it.
After much consideration and reflection, I decided this show wasn’t built for me: a twenty-something, academically-minded, theatre aficionado. I’m guessing, based on the audience at Joe Morley’s that night, the prime demographic is married couples over the age of 40. The show was overflowing with typical husband-and-wife jokes—from your basic “marriage is a trap” gags to asking men in the audience how they appease their stereotypically demanding wives to pulling couples out of the audience between acts to perform “couple challenges.” Granted, this show may have been more couple-centered because of the recent Valentine’s holiday.
I doubt I’ll ever return to see another Salty Dinner Theater show, but I was obviously the minority as conversations between acts and after the bows showed me. All of the patrons at my table loved the show, and many were season ticket holders who had seen many previous productions and planned on returning many more times. As I noted earlier, I was certainly not the demographic for this type of theatre, but for the casual theater-goer who loves a cheesy punchline, this might be the theater company for you.