Meat 'n' murder...

Ah, that's better. Those reading the last editorial may have noticed a slight degree of tension -- in the same way that Hitler was "slightly mad". But even though I'd *far* rather still not be here, ten days in Phoenix of rest, relaxation, sunshine and culture both high (a visit to an exhibition of Monet paintings -- I resisted the temptation to walk up to the admissions desk and say, "Show me the Monet") and low (attending WCW's Monday Nite Nitro show) have generally restored my traditional even keel. At least, for the moment: I'm off up to Birmingham on Thursday, and am playing Russian Roulette on my good humour by travelling with Virgin Rail...

Anyway, Halloween in America was impressive, since they clearly go for it in a much bigger way than here. I'll save full details for the next TC, I think: here, I'll just concentrate on Dinner Theater, which I went to one evening, and deserves some comment as a new, and generally enjoyable experience. I've had trouble explaining the concept of pantomime to Americans before, but going by this case, all I have to say is "it's like dinner theater", since both contain audience participation, generally coarse acting, and cross-dressing.

This was, in particular, Mystery Dinner Theater: set in the 1920's, we were supposedly guests at a film premiere hosted by a megalomaniacal tycoon, clearly inspired by Cecil B.de Mille. His leading lady is offed, and we have to find the culprit, from the evidence in the play, and by questioning the characters. Was it the rival for her role? The overly swashbuckling leading man? Her ambitious personal assistant? The action takes place in and around the tables of the restaurant which plays host to the event, with the actors also doubling as waiters and waitresses, serving up the food between "acts".

Let's be honest: the food sucked, barely reaching the level of a decent school canteen in terms of innovation, presentation or taste, clearly being designed for volume production. But given the price, which was not all that different from a regular theatre ticket, this was not surprising, nor in consequence did it matter too much. And I really doubt the plot logic would have held up in court; without giving too much away, I could see absolutely no evidence for the murderer being who it was. Mind you, I was never any good at whodunnits. And the acting is hammy and unsubtle - the mime/clown was particularly irritating - with corpsing not uncommon.

So why did I enjoy myself? Probably for the same reasons I enjoy pantos (well, at least generally) -- or indeed, WCW wrestling: larger-than-life characters, enthusiasm and energy, and a sense that anything could happen. Taking the audience into a show is a dangerous act at the best of times, and when you're dealing with a well-fuelled dinner crowd, the best laid plans don't so much gang aft a-gley as fly straight out the window, shrieking. While I sometimes wondered how many of the ad-libs had been scripted beforehand, it still required undeniable guts and quick thinking to handle it all and keeps things rolling in the general direction of the plot.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, it was apparent that there were no fortunes being made here -- the actors were largely doing it because they loved acting, and their fervour carried through. They were genuinely having fun, and that's infectious. There's a lesson to be learned from this, and perhaps it helps explains why I find both The Blair Witch Project and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre over-rated -- neither was much fun for the actors to make, by all accounts. Be it films, plays, fanzines or whatever, if you want your audience to have a good time, have one yourself. That kind of philosophy I can handle...


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