Face it, the interactive comedy murder
mystery is not going anywhere soon. What started in the 1990s as a live
version of the Clue board game mixed with dress-up party games has
blossomed, for better or for worse, into a theatrical genre and a
cottage industry. A Deadly Briefcase is the new year’s jolly
merry-go-round of mayhem, presented by Bob Brown’s Opening Night
Productions at the Glen Loch Restaurant in Jamesville.
The show is another one of those Cafe Noir
series of interactive murder-mysteries by TV and film writer David
Landau, with songs by Nikki Stern. Landau has found considerable dinner
theater success with the series, even producing an interactive DVD
version of the first play, Murder at Cafe Noir. As
indicated by the painted portholes on the wall, this installment takes
place on a Caribbean cruise, presided over by a jolly cruise director
and a familiar set of passengers and suspects, who chase after a
Opening Night evidently specializes in the Landau repertoire, having previously mounted Murder at Cafe Noir, its sequel Noir Suspicions, and last January’s run of Spirits of Suspicion. Still, we’re not talking about sophisticated comedy here. A Deadly Briefcase
is the kind of show where a man in a duck mask “quacks under pressure,”
and an arch-villain is named Goldfemur. Although the Bond references
pile up in the first few minutes, Briefcase cheerfully slides from genre to genre, invoking Arthur Conan Doyle one minute and old Charlie Chan movies the next.
The songs are clever, but they leave us
wanting more, especially whenever Bill Ali and Cathleen O’Brien sing
them. Ali’s “Elementary,” performed with a twinkle in his eye, is a
Sherlock Holmes-inspired patter song reminiscent of Gilbert and
Sullivan. And “I Remember—Oh Well,” a clever parody of the Lerner and
Loewe tune from the classic Gigi, is sweetly sung by O’Brien as the pert amnesiac Lucy Moore.
Although there are plenty of laughs to
be had, the script also provides some unintentionally mystifying
moments. Many clues and bits of exposition are presented late in the
show, making audience participation difficult. Some doubling of roles
also prove confusing.
Thankfully, some of Central New York’s most dependable actors keep this ship from making like the Titanic.
Led by director Bob Brown, as always the essence of dapperness as
tuxedo-clad ex-agent Bruce Bond, the group sails blithely through the
rough patches in the script. Anne Fitzgerald and the aforementioned Ali
play brother and sister Kitty and Bobby Towne. Bobby, who thinks he’s
Sherlock Holmes, sets about solving the mystery of the briefcase before
it even develops. Kitty, who undergoes a puzzling transformation from
nerd to vamp between scenes, has had a previous relationship with Bond.
Adding to the fun are Roy vanNorstrand
and Becky Bottrill, who make a dandy Boris and Natasha-esque duo,
skulking around the edges of the mystery. John Seavers ably skirts the
stereotypes as Detective Ellory Chan, who shoulders the second act’s
sleuthing. Jimmy Curtin plays both the notorious Goldfemur and shipmate
James Lee. Adding some needed clarity to the proceedings is Marcia Mele
as the game cruise director.
Buoyed by high spirits and enthusiastic performances, Opening Night Productions’ A Deadly Briefcase
is a supremely silly way to ring in the new year. The show runs through
Jan. 11 at the Glen Loch, 4626 North St., Jamesville. Call 469-6969 for