Gasp! Someone has ignored the advice that it’s bad form to misbehave at the office Christmas party and killed Ebenezer Burnside (Carson Gilmore), the miserly CEO of a cutlery empire, with a machete. Who did it? Was it Lady Goo-Goo (Lara Starr Rigores), the party’s entertainment, who wasn’t allowed to perform? Her bodyguard, Dino (Tory N. Thompson)? Tiny Timmons (Natasha Lloyd), the firm’s H.R. director who engaged the services of this high-maintgenance diva? It could be anyone, as we learn in“The Knife Before Christmas,” written and directed by Paul Vander Roest for Act Out Mystery Theatre at The Reef Restaurant. The production offers something seasonal and yet off beat, off-color, and, out there in the Queen Mary Room of the redoubtable Reef Restaurant, off the beaten path. It’s a murder, sure, but given the humor of the story, the cleverness of the script, and some fine acting, it’s more a Happy Meal than a Last Supper.
Vander Roest has written another season-appropriate compelling story that seamlessly blends intergenerational pop culture references as well as provides walk-on roles for the audience, which allows the cast much latitude for improvisation and the audience much pause for nostalgia.
It’s not your average Christmas tale; and it’s certainly not your average Christmas Carol. The hero is Detective Sophie Tucker (Lara Starr Rigores). She’s in charge of the murder investigation. She seems competent enough – sharp as tacks, prickly as a cactus, a seeker of truth. We hope she solves the caper, but not too fast, so we can enjoy the meal. The story unfolds as she goes through the process of interviewing a host of suspects that includes Wayward Smithers (Gilmore), the Burnside-besotted P.A.,Tybolt Tyler Trent (Paul Vander Roest), Bertha Burnside (Lloyd), Burnside’s, Junoesque niece, or Rino (Thompson), Dino’s brother.
The production’s engaging, both in the coziness of the Queen Mary Room venue as well as the interactive nature of the story. The small room resembles a company cafeteria, which makes it feel communal as well as helps to concentrate its nonstop laughs.
Playing several roles in the course of the production, the cast showed a formidable versatility in the various requirements of their different characters. Lloyd, for instance, was grand as the meek Tiny Timmons, then blustery as Bertha Burnside, and then dweeby as the accountant Withers. Thompson wasn’t just funny when he was speaking but, in one memorable scene, while attention was off him, he stood off to the side – God knows why – trying to lick his elbow.
With this production you realize the power of live theatre to engage the audience, hold it’s attention, and amuse the bejeezus out of them with a rollicking tale that, like a Christmas miracle, ties together at the end.
Performances were 1 PM, Sat., Dec. 4 and 6 PM, Sun., Dec. 5. The show is available for private parties until the end of Dec. Tickets are $49.95 plus tax, which includes a three course dinner and the show. For more info call 961-9862 or visit www.ActOutMystery.com.