The Newport News by Christopher Trela

The Gourmet Detective

There is dinner theater, and then there is The Gourmet Detective, which belongs in a class by itself. These folks have been presenting comedy-mystery dinner theater for several years, but their current production, "Murder at the Cafe Noir;" is the best yet.

The fun starts the moment you enter the restaurant, renamed Cafe Noir for the evening. Actors greet you in character and immediately transport you to the Island of Mustique, circa 1940. Seems that one Andre Gauvreau, owner of Cafe Noir and a powerful man on the island, was shot to death.

Who dunnit?

Many had their reasons: Anthony Laszio Cairo, a local low-life; Sheila Wonderly, an intimate friend of the deceased; Vince Thursby, another local low-life; Angelique Toureau, co-owner of Cafe Noir; Simon Gutterman, a martini-toting lawyer; Maria LaRue, a voodoo woman; and several others. into this scenario strolls Rick Archer (or "Just Plain Rick"), a down on his luck American who acts and talks like Humphrey Bogart, one of the greatest noir-genre actors.

How does this all tie together? Amazingly, the plot makes sense, more so than previous Gourmet Detective shows. And there is an abundance of humor strewn throughout the show, which takes place among the tables of the intimate Mezannine Restaurant. The actors - in character - chat with diners about clues while revealing their possible motives, and also act out segments of the play in the center of the restaurant. There are some very clever touches to "Murder at the Cafe Noir." Rick Archer happens to have the same last name as Bogart's partner in "The Maltese Falcon," a replica of the famed "black bird" is used as a set piece, and many characters are named after those in various Bogart movies (Cairo, Laszio, Thursby). Numerous other Boggie references add to the fun. The actors, who also serve as waiters (in character, of course), are a rotating band of local stage veterans who divide their time between The Gourmet Detective and other stages. Most nights you can find Steve Sturm ("Holiday" at the Vanguard Theatre) playing Rick Archer. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role because Sturm is so convincing, and like the rest of the cast, appears to be having a grand time sending up the noir genre.

The night I saw the show, Nicole Maringer ("Much Ado About Nothing" at Stages) was a beautifully convincing Sheila Wonderly; Patrick Munoz ("Don't Dress for Dinner," Laguna Playhouse) was a perfectly sleazy and drunken Simon Gutterman; Bob May ("A Child's Christmas in Wales," Laguna Playhouse) is a swarthy riot in the dual role of Thursby/VanGilder; Silvie Boggs (also the show's director) made a splendid voodoo chanting Maria LaRue; and Ceptembre Anthony and Andy Pinon were ideal as Madame and Cairo, respectively. Kevin Weed provided very appropriate accompaniment on the piano. Performances of "Murder at the Cafe Noir" are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. The Gourmet Detective is indeed a tasty, satisfying theatrical treat. For more information, call (866) 992-5424.