OREM — Halloween is around the corner and with it comes a myriad of spooky theatre pieces. It’s sort of become a Utah tradition. With so many choices, it’s hard to tell what’s going to be the best bang for your buck. With that in mind, I went to Salty Dinner Theatre’s Sleepy Hollow with some pretty big expectations. Luckily, the Salty Dinner Theater staff and cast compensated for my few complaints with their charm and commitment to the style of their product.
So often, dinner theatres fall into the trap of trying to do too much with too little resources. I’ve seen so many little dinner theatres fail because they spend their resources trying to do something like Les Misérables with a bucket of paint and a piano in the corner. It’s a doomed effort. In creating a dining atmosphere, an audience is naturally more relaxed, and a good dinner theatre should match that. This is the best thing that Salty Dinner Theatre has going for them; they’ve created a much more casual experience for their patrons. Instead of trying to mash the idea of dinner together with a darkened theatre, I felt like I was at a pub with my friends. The lights were those of the restaurant, and stage, and the actors had basic costumes and wandered through the tables. Even the seating was more casual. I was there with a friend, but was also sat with other patrons, who were more than willing to get to know each other.
Another thing I loved was that Salty Dinner seems to know not to take itself too seriously. They are goofy and cheesy and commit to that one hundred and ten percent. All of the actors played stereotypes, but did it so sincerely that it they came off as endearing, not cloying. Corey Sorenson’s Katrina Van Tassel was naïve, sweet, and a little spastic, but still came off as likeable. She, like many of the other actors, did a great job of balancing between the fine line of camp and farce that made up the evening. I also liked Scott Thompson’s portrayal of Brom Bones. He started off as the villain of the play, but as the character changed, Thompson softened up as well, making the arc of his character one of the most dynamic.
Despite the actors clear sense of commitment and bold choices, I did have some problems with the script; it was really my only complaint of the night. Sleepy Hollow is a difficult story for any theatre company to handle. I have seen a handful of attempts, and even acted in one myself, but have yet to see it successfully pulled off. This production was the closest, and Salty Dinner Theater actually handled the supernatural elements of the headless horseman in a very clever way for their venue. But they still ran into a few obstacles with their script. Doing a show over a full meal and dessert meant that they had to stretch a small amount of source material over a long period in order to give time for the food to come in. So in an effort to add to the story, a few new characters and plot elements were added. Unfortunately, these additions were not as smoothly added into the original plot, and ended up dragging out the play a little longer than needed, as well as not giving the audience a clear antagonist. I understand why director Beth Bruner felt the need to lengthen the scenes to accommodate the dinner theatre format, but I felt like maybe overshot her mark a little and lost focus on the main story. The woman next to me, however, did lean over after and say that she’s been a Salty Dinner Junkie for two seasons and that all of the past productions are much more clear and concise, so apparently this is a problem unique to this production.
While the script kept this production from really being stellar, I did think this was the best version of Sleepy Hollow I’ve ever seen, and by far the best dinner theatre Utah has to offer. It’s campy, silly, and sometime rough around the edges, but it’s also genuine and so self-aware of its inherent goofiness that it works. Would I go again? Maybe. I’m still not a fan of dinner theatre; it’s just not my thing. However, for those who do like this type of theatre, I would recommend it highly. This company has a clear idea of what it is and what it offers to audiences, giving them a chance to unwind, enjoy a good meal, and be entertained.