OREM — On entering the dining room at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Orem we were immediately engaged by members of the play cast. It was obvious from the accents that this mystery was set in England. The actors mingled with the audience, allowing us to truly get to know each character. Not only were the actors able to converse with us, but it truly felt as if they were the people they were portraying. These characters were all very well fleshed out and these actors took it upon themselves to stay in character every minute. This is hard to do in any performance, but when audience members shout out, to be able to respond off the cuff as if you’re the character you’re playing—this is talent. For example, Max De Wintergreen, played by Brian Douros, as the self-centered lord of the manor. Throughout the play, Max reminded us in the audience how remarkably perfect, handsome, rich, and wonderful he was. Henry, Max’s lowly gardener, played by Justice Jex, also spent quite a bit of time chatting with us and told my wife he had grown the lettuce from her salad himself and asked her what she thought of it. I believe we spoke to nearly every character; they circulated through the diners, introducing themselves and explaining what was going on.
The premise of the show was that we were at a dinner party at Max’s manor house. As we started eating, we were struck by the stern and suspicious glare of Inga Glaus Strychnine, the grouchy German housekeeper, played by Chandra Marie Lloyd. We also got to know Max’s orphaned 14-year-old niece and ward, Alice Shadybrook, played by Bonnie Randall. She explained that both her mother and Max’s wife had died on the same day, though miles apart. Very mysterious exposition. All this while we ate our salads.
As entrées began to appear, the play started. Max was narcissistic in a likable way and Emily Ingenue, his fiancé and Alice’s governess played by Rebeckah Pehrson (who told us her diamond was 64 carats, and it looked it) was sweet and kind. Guests arrived, including Sheerluck Homes, played by Troy Larsen, and his friend Helen Emtry (rhymes with “element’ry”) by Amy Saxton. The show was filled with such puns. We learn that Emily is attracted to Max because she “really likes his manner (manor).” These puns are actually quite fun with no detectable groan factor. Another fun gag was several times in the show scary, mysterious music would play and all characters would stop action and look around, trying to discern where the music was coming from. This effect was delightful.
I must mention, inasmuch as this is dinner theatre, the play was presented rather seamlessly in order to allow diners to enjoy their meals. Make no mistake, this is a highly interactive production. Do not go expecting to carry on uninterrupted conversations. You will want to join the other diners in attempting to solve the mystery by paying close attention to clues being dropped continuously along the way. Even if you wanted to keep a low profile, you wouldn’t be able to. Some individuals are singled out to play parts in the action. Our favorite was the big kid who was chosen by Emily to dance with her as she belted out “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” But everyone gets into the action in one way or another.
In addition to “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the songs (or just the tunes) of “Copacabana, “The Way We Were,” and “What Lola Wants, Lola Gets” all make delightful appearances.
There is very little set decoration for this is traveling dinner theater show, but the costumes were all wonderful. Max De Wintergreen was in a spotless tux, and his fiancée was in a gorgeous velvet gown, Inge in a serviceable jacket and skirt (and rather remarkable gray streaks in her hair reminiscent of Bride of Frankenstein), little Alice was adorable in ringlets and a satin frock, Henry the gardener in a dirty shirt and pants, dirt smeared all over his face, Dr. Emtry in a rather lovely evening dress, and Sheerluck in a jacket and wool cap, though he wore it sideways to show his foolish nature.
I must say that several of the cast boasted rather authentic accents, which helped convey a sense that we really were in Jolly Olde England. This was not true of everyone, though. Henry the gardener (Justice Jex) had a distinctive Cockney accent, and Alice (Bonnie Randall) not only had a lovely accent, she spoke in a little girl voice that made us all really believe she was fourteen years old. And of course, Inga (Chandra Marie Lloyd) had a strong German accent which augmented her crusty looks and fearful manner.
Finally, someone is murdered. We do not see the vile act committed but we are shown an object that purportedly was used in the demise. At this point, the audience is given some hidden clues (which had been hidden under a mat on the table) and instructed to question the remaining cast members in order to determine who the murderer is, how the victim met their fate, and what the killer’s motive was. At our table, we each took a clue or two and interrogated the suspects. We tried to share our answers, but the information didn’t congeal into any pattern that we could see would point to any one person. So we guessed. At the denouement, some withheld information was revealed and then it was all clear. Several of the cast read out some of the silly guesses that audience members had submitted and we all had a good laugh. Then prizes were awarded to some who had solved the mystery. Afterwards the crowd seemed to depart in high spirits, kibitzing about their guesses and discussing the play. Our dining companions thoroughly enjoyed the evening and were glad they came.
Although the evening was an overwhelmingly positive experience. a few things could be mentioned that detracted a bit from the experience, though. The music and sound effects were too loud at times. The actors then needed face mics, which were large and intrusive. In such an intimate venue, and with such strong voices, couldn’t they have done without them? Head movement, and especially hugging, caused a burst of static, too. There were nowhere near the issues we have seen in junior high and high school productions with amateurs on the boards, but it is worth a mention. We have seen another production at this location and the arrangement of the tables and the staging areas was better at that one than for More Mystery on Moors. We missed having a large central area; too much of the action was crowded into the ends and edges of the room. I know this problem is endemic to dinner theater and applaud the fine job that was done within these confines. It just could be done a little better.
We saw another “Sheerluck” production last week, at the Desert Star Playhouse in Murray, and More Mystery on the Moors suffers slightly by comparison. Desert Star has the advantage of in-house performance, not subjected to the vagaries of performing in someone else’s restaurant. They have scenery, props, tiered seating, etc. But the real issue was in the level of humor in the script. It truly sparkled at Desert Star, while this production was a bit dimmer. We felt that the Sheerluck/Helen Emtry duo was not dynamic enough, though we did enjoy them. By dynamic I mean that there wasn’t a clear depiction of the Sherlock Holmes character—smart clothes, even smarter deductions, and always in a precise, condescending superciliousness. It was fine that Sheerluck Homes wasn’t that character, but neither was Dr. Helen Emtry. She could have displayed the classic Holmes deductions and conclusions and it would have been more than satisfactory. In my opinion, this show would have actually been sharper and funnier if the Holmes/Emtry characters hadn’t been in it. If you’re going to bring Sherlock Holmes into a show, you better make sure that Conan Doyle fans will either love it, laugh at it, or both. This show didn’t really encourage me to do either.
But Hunt Mysteries are always well done and a treat to see. Owner Jared Hunt has a high-energy cast of professionals who truly entertain. This will not be the last Hunt show we see.