The Halloween-themed “Screaming Mimi!,” written and directed by Paul Vander Roest for Act Out Mystery Theatre and staged at the Reef Restaurant may offer the formulaic unpleasantness of a murder and its hilarious solution, but, oh, what a formula!
Vander Roest presents a goody bag that brims with cinematic references. Peopled with an ungodly number of wacky characters played to perfection by a cast of four, the story, its enactment, and the setting offer a rollicking interlude of tricks and treats. Though it seems to fly by the seat of its pants, the story’s tightly constructed plot begins with the reading of the will of the recently deceased Miss Mimi, an action that brings out the worst in her eager-to-profit household staff. It carries through with the murder of attorney Barry Mason (Carson Gilmore), who’s going to execute the will, at which time the story turns into a homicide to be solved by Detective Boris Barlift (Gilmore). There’s the revelation that Mimi herself might have been murdered, which makes this a possible double homicide. And there are the various motives and alibis, plausible and im-, all of which lead to the eventual solving of the crime. Though you wonder afterwards how you could have just seen almost twenty characters packed into a 3-act play, it passes by so fast, is to perfectly paced and so outlandishly funny that the whole thing bristles with laughter and mirth, from salad, through the main course, to dessert.
So well-defined are the theatrical personas of Lara Starr Rigores, Gilmore, and Vander Roest that the production feels more like goofing around in a living room than like acting on a stage. Rigores is chihuahua-hilarious, always in motion, always exaggerating to brilliant effect her voice, her gestures, and her movements. Gilmore ponders a lot and, if he’s not exactly reflective, then at least he’s the most pensive of the trio. He’s the exact opposite of Vander Roest who, Mardi Gras outrageous, is always larger than life. They play off each other perfectly, blend well with their other cohorts, and are stupendous – Rigores, especially – with the various audience members assigned walk-on roles.
Whether she’s Mrs. Dithers, the melodramatic, semi-English housekeeper or Eeyore the Attention Deficit Disordered chauffeur, Rigores is funny even if she’s not the center of attention. Her delivery (high-pitched, lilting) carries a wallop. As Barry Mason, the paunchy attorney who’s never lost a case or as Detective Boris Barlift, a vampiric Columbo, Gilmore carries the story forward, lurching about at times, often sidetracked, but always forward. Vander Roest brings a sense of Mardi Gras outrageousness to both Glow, the huba-hubba Southern cook with a signature “Kiss my grits!” phrase or Morbid Mulch the ornery gardener.
Finally, Melinda Parker makes her broom-wielding Witch Hazel, the cackling downstairs maid astringent and snarky and her Mae East, the upstairs maid (come up and see me sometime), the epitome of va-va-voom.
The cast flings the witty dialogue like a cafeteria food fight. The cherry that tops this luscious sundae splattered against the wall consists of a hilarious exchange reminiscent of Abbot and Costello’s iconic “Who’s on First?” that involves a play on “Werewolf/Where, wolf?” And “There, wolf.”
Performances are 7:00 pm, Friday and Saturday, 1:30 pm Sunday. The show runs until November 5. Tickets are $49.95 (dinner and show). The Restaurant is located at 880 Harbor Scenic Drive, Long Beach. For more information call (562) 961-9862 or visitwww.actoutmystery.com.