SANDY — Poison Ivy Mysteries brings theater into a whole new realm of interactivity. As soon as we walked in the doorway of Club Mystique—a 1940’s-era joint on the wrong side of the law—we received gangster names and characters began engaging us:
Character: “Long time, Bert the Stoolie.”
Me looking at name badge: “Uh, yeah!”
Character: “Oh, Bert! You’re such a tease!”
Eventually the action proper got underway as we were invited into the dining room. Over the course of an all-too-short evening, the dark secrets of Club Mystique were revealed until an assassin in our midst put the murder in murder mystery dinner theater. Then was up to us to grill the cast and patch together the whodunit.
This mystery may be Poison Ivy’s toughest yet. The script, written by Annelise Murphy who also directed, left plenty of heavy lifting for the audience, who were hard-pressed to eliminate the red herrings and solve the case in time. Compounding the difficulty were the fast pacing, which made some character motivations more opaque than perhaps necessary, and similar character names (Sam vs. Stan, Didi vs. Diane). Only one perceptive (and might I add handsome) audience member cracked the case, and walked away with the prize—a pair of movie tickets.
But the real reward was the actors’ excellent performances. It’s rare to see an actor so perfectly envelop his character as Morgan Walton in the role of Billy Scott. Mr. Walton gave no traces of artifice—he simply was Billy, no more, no less—and gave a stellar performance.
Melissa Cecala was also delicious as the club strumpet Vivian, a tramp likely to steal the heart of every man in the audience. Her superbly poised movement and knock-out looks will be the highlight of many a patron’s evening.
Criss Rosenlof was an imposing but not unapproachable presence as the Russian gangster Stan the Stealer. His accent was so convincing, the James Bond franchise should have him in their Rolodex.
Kevin Dennis (Sam Bullet) did an admirable job at toeing the line between good and bad guy as an underemployed private investigator; and rounding out the cast were Alice Gonzalez as Didi Mallory and April Tritchler as Diane Jones.
All the actors deserve a hand for their ability to stay in character and improv as they go. While the audience interrogated them questions—some completely out of left field—they responded naturally and in character.
The Silvercrest Reception Center provided an intimate environment (which Cecala uses to her full advantage!), though it may have hindered some song and dance numbers that were not up to par with the acting. Opening night also had some technical problems like late catering and temperamental sound. But given the long run, there’s plenty of time to work these kinks out.
In conclusion, if having the freedom to interact with great characters sounds interesting to you, check outClub Mystique. The acting was superb and the show promises to get better as it continues throughout the summer.