Sunday, January 14, 2024

"'Til Death Do Us Die" by The Mystery Cafe at Majestic Oaks Golf Club

Having been entertaining audiences for 35 years, The Mystery Cafe is "the longest running interactive comedy dinner theater company in Minnesota," but for some reason I've only recently heard of it. I think maybe that's because it operates outside of the typical theater model, and maybe attracts different audiences. But it employs a lot of the same great actors/ comedians/ improvisors that we see on #TCTheater stages around town, so I (and you) should definitely be aware of it. Presumably if you read this blog you love theater, but if you have someone in your life who says they don't like theater, this might be a great way to introduce them to the wide world of theatrical entertainment. It's definitely not the sit-in-a-dark-audience-completely-separate-from-what's-happening-onstage kind of theater. Instead, you're right in the middle of the action, sitting at large round tables with a group of friends and strangers, eating a three-course meal while theater happens all around you. At my table there was a family of four, and a couple from out-state Minnesota who for years has been driving into the cities to see this show. The show was nearly sold out, so they obviously have a big following. The current show 'Til Death Do Us Die is playing through February 17 at Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake, check it out for a really fun and uniquely entertaining night out. 

'Til Death Do Us Die (an original play written by Mystery Cafe owner Brian Kelly) is the perfect format for this type of show, making it not just immersive but site-specific. From the moment you arrive at the golf club ballroom and are ushered to your table by a man in a tux, it feels like you're at a wedding. But the most bizarre and hilarious wedding you've (hopefully) ever been do. A couple of the dozen or so tables are invited to attend the wedding ceremony, with a few rows of chairs set up on the dance floor. After a few interruptions and jokes, the happy couple is hitched, and we head back to our tables for dinner.* There are a few structured scenes between courses (which the actors serve), but really the show never stops. The wedding party mingles amongst the tables, just like at a real wedding, interacting with the guests and always in character, requiring great improv skills.

I almost forgot this was a murder mystery, I was having so much fun with the immersive faux wedding concept. But yes, eventually, someone winds up dead, which is when the mystery solving begins. We're asked to write our guess on a slip of paper, and the winner receives a prize. It's set up in such a way that it really could be anyone, but if you're paying attention, there are a few telling clues. For the record, my friend and I did actually come up with the (sort of) right answer, but then were distracted by red herrings and thinking too much (as happens with all good mystery stories). But it's really less about the mystery than the experience - enjoying a meal with new and old friends and watching (and interacting with) talented performers.

Speaking of talented performers, the bride Tara Ball is played by the always delightful Nissa Nordland, and at the performance I saw, her groom Duncan Schoen (get it?) was played by understudy Neal Skoy (recent TCTB Award nominee for Favorite Comedic Performance by an Individual). They made for a charming, if slightly bizarre, couple (they're from feuding families, she's been married a few times before). The bride's parents (Wini Froelich and an audience volunteer) were happy to give her away. The ceremony was performed by the bride's uncle, Father Wally Ball (Tim Dybevik), who after the service really enjoyed his champagne. The wedding party consisted of the groom's brothers - the elder responsible one, and the younger... simple one (played by Josh Carson and Jonah Smith respectively) - and sister-in-law / wedding planner (Casey Martin), and the bride's bestie (Brittany Oberstadt). As DJ Randy "Rock" Hardigan, Sam Landman kept the music going all night, from organ versions of pop songs before the ceremony, to my favorite '80s sitcom theme song during the ceremony (sung by the wedding party), to perfectly chosen songs during the reception. Rounding out the cast was Brad Erickson as the detective who swoops in to solve the murder, a sort of "discount Daniel Craig." The whole cast is really fantastic, performing the script that's full of pop culture references, and staying in character while interacting with the guests/audience.

I had a great time at my first visit to The Mystery Cafe, and look forward to seeing them again. It's a fun change of pace from traditional theater. You still get to watch some great performances, but up close and personal, while enjoying food and conversation. Head up to Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake (where's that, you ask? if you know where Crooners is, just keep going north on Highway 65 for another 10 miles) through February 17 for this wacky wedding. They also perform at other locations (like their recent holiday show at Great Wolf Lodge near the Mall of America) and for private events. Follow them on Facebook for info about upcoming shows.

the wedding party: Brittany Oberstadt, Casey Martin, Nissa Nordland,
Brian Hodge-Rice, Josh Carson, and Jonah Smith (photo courtesy of The Mystery Cafe)

*There are a few entree choices, including a vegetarian option. They can also accommodate other dietary needs or restrictions, so be sure to ask about that when reserving tickets.