Writer/Director Paul Vander Roest gets points for panache. Throw in a googol of familiarity with soap opera culture, the ability to weave it into a spoofy, seamless, hilarious whodunit and you've got Die Nasty, staged by Act Out Mystery Theatre at the Reef Restaurant. Spot-on, versatile acting characterizes this production that digs with delight at TV divas and their divos, serves up some impressive sleuthing and, oh yeah, solves a slew of murders.
Under Vander Roest's vibrant direction, the mystery's set at the Dainty Court Neighborhood Watch meeting in Fairweather City, which appears to be a retirement community for The Old and Restive. The community's a-twitter: 37 people have been murdered in the past 28 days. What to do? Why, call in Julia Child-ish (Natasha Lloyd) to hash out the concerns and concoct strategies to apprehend the bad egg. Filling the breach left by the feline machinations of block captain Norma Rae (Lara Starr Rigores) and Cheddar Cheese (also Lloyd), Child-ish, abetted by the Abbott and Costello-esque Hardly Boys, Joe (Carson Gilmore) and Frank (Vander Roest), leaves no trivet unturned as she waffles her way through a buffet of sweet and savory characters. Between salad and desert we sampled a menu of unusual suspects, including Luke and Laura Suspenders, their son, Unlucky Suspenders, Susan Gucci, Drake Carrington, his current wife, Christina, and his ex, Alexi Carrington Colby - I wonder if she's related to Cheddar, Gouda, and brother Jack Cheese from Monterey. And let's not automatically exonerate the smarmy J.R. Dewing (Paul Vander Roest), the stately, Machiavellian matriarch, Miss Nellie, the bloody good Barnaby Collins or, for that matter, the braceless and Beautiful Betty, "Read my lips" Ashlee Simpleton, moose-hunting Palin Carrington, and Katherine Hindenburg, who, contrary to historical accounts, did not crash and burn.
The parts played by the patrons - you're more brave than I - were heroic and side splittingly amusing. For those who relish this sort of thing, it's the histrionic equivalent of karaoke. Especially good was my table companion's velvety culpable Miss Nellie, the dude who limned Barnaby Collins the vampire, and the woman who played Beautiful Betty. The parts played by the Act Out Troupe were, as Julia Child-ish would warble, tres magnifique. Not only did each schizophrenically enact multiple roles with great verve, they stirred the pot with some nifty comedic timing and improvisation. Vander Roest wasn't just a caricature of J.R. Dewing, he was the duplicitous oilman. As a man playing a woman playing a cross-dressing man once married to a womanizer, Gilmore convinced no one - and was all the more funny for it. Rigores's Christina Carrington's silhouette may have been defined by her NFL shoulder pads but her performance was lean and agile. And Lloyd's Julia was the leavening of this pannetone of a production.
Like raisins in that pannetone, perhaps lost but not unnoticed amidst the reverie, were the script's non-stop bon mots and puns that, along with over-the-top performances by professionals and amateurs alike, ratcheted up the dramatic tension - we couldn't, wouldn't, and didn't want to leave the table until the culprit was apprehended or dessert was served, whichever came last.
Performances are 7pm, Fri & Sat, 1:30, Sun. The show runs until July 17. Tickets are $49.95 for dinner and show. The Restaurant is located at 880 South Harbor Scenic Drive in Long Beach. For more info call (562) 961-9862 or visit www.actoutmystery.com.