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Murder, Las Vegas Style
Foul Play Cafe

Also see Lauren's review of As You Like It and Wally's review of Valley of the Dolls


Top row (four in the back): Jeff Hudson, Robert Brittain, C.R. Adams, John Bauer; Middle Row: Warren Asa Wilgus, Bob Harbert, Liz O'Reilly, Rachel Haskett, Stuart Rupprecht, Neil Faulconbridge; Front Row (seated): Rebecca Holcombe and Ceptembre Anthony-Tedesco
One thing I love about theatre is that the experience of seeing a live theatrical performance can vary exponentially. You could see a production in a traditional proscenium setup, like the Albuquerque Little Theatre, or the more flexible black box style of UNM's Experimental Theatre, which can be arranged in almost any way imaginable to suit the production. The choices go on. Live theatre is always unique because every performance is unlike any other, and the variety of production styles adds to the distinct dynamic of live performance art. If you're looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, Foul Play Cafe serves up a family-friendly, comedic murder-mystery dinner theatre, accompanied by a four-course meal. Through August 31st, Foul Play Cafe presents Murder, Las Vegas Style at the Sheraton Uptown, written by James Daab and directed by Nikki Taylor. The production space is intimate; most closely resembling an alley theatre setup, the performance takes place primarily in an open space between two rows of tables in one of the Sheraton's smaller event rooms. At the end of the evening, the audience must try and guess "whodunit," and one lucky person with the correct guess wins a prize.

Each role in the play is double cast, and the actors are mix and matched for each performance, making every show a little bit different. At the performance I saw opening weekend, the actors adeptly bounced off the audience and each other during the show, and they improvised in-character conversations with each other and audience members during meal service in between acts (since the actors double as servers). The plot follows an Entertainer of the Year contest at a less-than-glamorous Vegas casino/all-night laundromat. Our table was seated by Leta Cantro, played that evening by Ceptembre Anthony-Tedesco. Leta, one of the contestants, is an aging performer who deceives herself about how successful and well-known she is; as we settled into our table, Anthony-Tedesco exclaimed that we must have recognized her, saying, "Of course! It's me, Leta!" Then there's Bobby Poundstone, the contest's host and another struggling performer longing for his own headlining act. Poundstone was played by Neil Faulconbridge; I recently enjoyed his portrayal of Robert in David Auburn's Proof at Explora in February. Poundstone sports tacky, mismatched prints and loud colors (most notably, lime green shoes) that indicate that he, too, lacks the glamour and style of a more successful entertainer. Sometimes it takes actors a few minutes to warm up into their characters; not so for Faulconbridge. His performance was natural and seamless, as was that of John Bauer as washed-up comedian Manny Bergman. Bauer did not try to be his character-he simply was his character, right from the start. His mannerisms, his clothing, and the way he held his cigar and made jabs at Leta were all spot on.

C.R. Adams played newbie ventriloquist Eddie Vacarro, crafting a bug-eyed, nervous young performer whose only other "professional" gig was at Chuck E. Cheese. Adams nailed his character's naiveté and painful desire to please, which made for some great laughs throughout the show. Rachel Haskett played the slightly ditzy showgirl Tori Tanuto; as a character, Tori doesn't contribute much more to the plot aside teasing the desperate contestants, but, donning a fuzzy pink bathrobe and New York City accent, Haskett effectively provided her own brand of comic relief. Finally, Bob Harbert filled the role of Frank Salerno, the judge of the contest and one of my favorites from the night. Notably of a higher status than the other entertainers, Salerno wears a sharp suit and bow tie. A well-known singer, he is the only one among them who is a successful performer and therefore too good to even remember the other character's names. Harbert was perfect in the role, simultaneously playing classy and sleazy, as Salerno is the closest thing to a villain the show has.

Somewhat to be expected, the performance has minimal set pieces: no more than a couple of chairs and a table or two are set up to accommodate the few props used in the show. The actors are always on the move and the emphasis is on the humor, almost like a stand-up comedy show, so the lack of set décor doesn't detract from the performance. It's even worked into the show's self-deprecating humor, as Leta comments incredulously to Bobby that she can't believe "this little room" is the performance space for the contest.

Since you're paying for a four-course meal and a performance, ticket prices for the show are higher than most Albuquerque theatregoers are likely used to. However, it's comparable to dining out separately and then going to a show, and if you're interested in a different kind of performance experience, it's well worth it. Since it's a dinner theatre, I feel I should at least briefly comment on the meal. For this show's run, guests can choose from three entrée options (the full menu is available on Foul Play Cafe's website). I had the vegetarian butternut squash lasagna, which was delicious, served in a creamy sauce with vegetables. Other guests at our table commented on the satisfying quality of the chicken stuffed with green chile and cheese and the red chile braised beef. Each meal includes a salad, soup, and dessert, and drink service is provided by the Sheraton.

Murder, Las Vegas Style runs through August 31st, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm. All performances are at the Sheraton Uptown, located at 2600 Louisiana Boulevard NE, 87110. Tickets are $55 for the standard package or $32 for a kid's package (fourteen and under); reservations are required. To make a reservation, visit www.foulplaycafe.com or call 505-377-9593.

--Sarah Parro



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