Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Spy Who Punned Me, or… From Old Creamery With Love, or… Punraker, or…

By K. Michael Moore
Photos by Lily Allen-Duenas

(L-R) Keegan Christopher as Myron; 
Mike Long as Jacob Seal
Cedar Rapids Puns are generally something a person loves, or hates. In a lot of ways, so is dinner theater. In both cases, the decision is entirely a matter of opinion and personal preference.

I LOVE puns (as several friends will attest with displeasure, no doubt!) – not sure about the old adage claiming they are the “highest” form of humor, but I love them. Dinner Theater, well, that I have found can be marvelous or disastrous… and every space in between.

Old Creamery Theater’s dinner theater production, The Spy Who Killed Me (written by James Daab) is a pun-laden farce of the spy thriller genre, performed at the Clarion Hotel in Cedar Rapids (Note: NOT at the OCT’s usual Main Stage or Studio spaces in Amana).

It ain’t Shakespeare, but it is far from disastrous.

It’s a script designed for dinner theater – which is a boon. I have attended eat-while-you-watch productions of more standard scripts – and tend to dislike them. (The distraction of servers delivering the entrée in the middle of an epic solo or monologue, someone in the audience spilling their drink and requiring assistance JUST AS CHRISTINE SINGS “THINK OF ME”??? No… Not okay). Old Creamery’s production is well designed to avoid such things, accounting for its nature with a wink and a nod, interrupting the action for various courses, and the actors interacting with the audience as they eat and discuss.

The script – not going to lie – lacks brilliance. With a gaping plot hole or two, this script is a fun mockery of the spy genre, but not truly a murder mystery; the “Doomsday Machine” plotline far overshadows the actual “Whodunnit” murder play aspect. I didn’t really care about helping to catch the killer so much as I wanted to know how the characters would stop the end of the world! In fact a few of the hints that might have helped hook me into the mystery were down-played in the action. But I was enjoying myself throughout.

What Daab’s script does well is create a charming and puntastical farce of the “spy flick” genre. Every James Bond movie in the universe gets mocked in this show, and for a fan, especially, it’s a treat, in an environment that not only accommodates the atmosphere, but celebrates it, and invites audience participation. It is also very, very modern, with references to recent celebrity happenings, from gluten intolerance to pop music, and many local or tabloid oriented jokes. The show isn’t only funny for Bond fans, though I would say it’s likely to be most funny for Bond fans. And puns. PUNS. PUNS!! Some of them are atrocious, some of them marvelous. Like most puntastic humor, it’s a mix.

(L-R) Jackie McCall as Ivanna; Jeff Haffner as Dr. Doom
Jeff Hauffner (Dr. Doom) and Jackie McCall (Ivanna) are a delightful villainous duo. They get to do what every actor longs for now and then: just get stupid silly with their characters! They are both iconic, in cliché, wonderful villains. I loved them from start to finish. Were they deep, meaningful, torturously motivated? No! But they were both in full possession of their farcical nature and playing to the hilt. The “Moose and Skverl” cartoon villainy was perfect. As actors, they grab hold of their characters and live in them.

This IS a murder mystery, and so I can’t talk too much about the surprises… there are several … and people hate Spoilers…. Dammit.

Sean McCall is billed as the character “El Loco” and as the Director of the play: his billing in the program does not do him justice. Like Hauffner and Jackie McCall, Sean McCall presents both a character and an actor having the experience of that character. In a different production, that might be viewed as a negative, but in a lighthearted farce (about murder and the end of everything…), it is indeed a very positive experience – he’s having fun while leading us to do the same. McCall’s performance brings to mind the characters of the British cartoon Danger Mouse, and all the playfulness therein. He’s wearing many…wigs… in this show.

In truth, the “secret agent” story is as much a myth as the “Whodunnit” – the various characters revolve around each other well, interacting and complicating events. But it isn’t the secret agent who solves either the murder or the end-of-the-world plot…. It’s…

Ha. Spoilers. Not gonna tell! There’s definitely enough mystery here to keep you guessing until the end, when the killer is at last unveiled.

(L-R) Sean McCall as El Loco; Jackie McCall as Ivanna
The other benefit of dinner theater over standard fare is a lovely night of conversation with table-mates. I met four really neat people, and we shared our ideas on the mystery of the evening, swapped stories and jokes and email addresses, and had a very pleasant meal together. And that’s pretty awesome, when you think about how seldom that sort of thing happens these days.

I will advise - as a “foodie” - avoid the beer cheese soup. The rest of the food was good - tasty, plentiful, and well planned. The cheesecake was delicious, and the entrée of beef and chicken with seasoned baked potato was not only a lot of food but well flavored. There was also a good, simple salad. Food aplenty and well worth it, complimentary iced tea and coffee, and a cash bar (do bring cash for that – no cards). Just… let the soup be your “save room” course, and look forward to the show and the other options on your plate. I admit my upper Midwest bias – Beer Cheese Soup is a specific thing where I hail from, but this fell very well short… really, the soup was the weak spot of the entire night.

(Note to the EDITORS: If the Blog wants to open a food critique segment I volunteer…)

Dinner theater is a rarity around here - if you decide to take some in (and you should), check out Old Creamery’s The Spy Who Killed Me. It’s a fun, social, interesting show, and (soup excepting!) the food is worth it. Make sure you talk to your table mates! You might solve the mystery and win a prize!

The Spy Who Killed Me isn’t really a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. It isn’t the best script. What it IS: fun, interactive, funny, food-filled, socially connected, and well-performed. It’s good dinner theater, and worth the visit. I laughed. A lot.

Old Creamery presents The Spy Who Killed Me through March 28. This, unlike previous OCT dinner theater events, does include some matinee shows – check out details of this event, and the raffle and silent auction being held alongside the show, at

No comments: