Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s slogan could be “Comfort Food and Comfort Theatre.” I went there by myself last Thursday night to see the British farce “Run for Your Wife.”
I usually go by myself to shows that I am planning to review. I like being able to concentrate on work when I’m working, and on friends when I’m with friends. Also, sometimes I just want to see a show, and the people whose company I enjoy are not available.
Beef & Boards is not a theatre that accommodates “onesies” easily. Maybe all dinner theatres are like that: the tables are designed for couples or for groups of four or six. But life is like that. If I always waited until I could get a friend to go with me, I would miss a lot.
At Beef & Boards last Thursday night, and last fall when I went there by myself to see “Oklahoma!” even though I wasn’t what the servers were used to, they hit just the right note of friendly attentiveness: neither ignoring me because I was alone nor fussing over me because they felt sorry for me. Both times, the service was really, really lovely.
Of course, if you want to be fussed over, I think they will do that. I overheard a couple telling their server that they had been coming to B&B for over 30 years. Their server’s name was Shane. “But you don’t sound Irish,” the husband said. Shane changed his accent accordingly. (And he sounded great!)
Every detail of the B&B experience has been honed over the years to fulfill the target audience’s definition of enjoyment. People begin lining up in the lobby before 5:00 even though the “doors” won’t open until 6:00, because they know that you get to go in the buffet line in the order that you are seated.
At 6:00, the house manager draws back a velvet curtain. Behind her is a line of staff in black and white uniforms waiting to escort each party to its assigned table in the tiered and gently-lit house. On your cloth-covered table is a small sign giving the name of your server.
While everyone is being seated, the servers take drink orders. Coffee or lemonade comes with the meal, but soda pop and alcoholic drinks are available for purchase.
At 6:30, there is a drum roll and other fanfare. Chefs wearing tall, poufy, white hats come out in a line to take a bow as an announcer welcomes everyone and names the head chef, Odell Ward. Then, in unison, the chefs whisk the lids off the food that has been keeping warm on the buffet tables. One chef takes up a big knife, ready to slice the roast beef on demand. The servers help the audience members to form orderly lines.
The food is hot and yummy, and as safe as my parents’ house. There are plenty of dishes to choose from, and you may go back for seconds if you like.
After a while, the announcer tells everyone that the buffet will only be open for another ten minutes. Your server comes around with a huge tray of desserts, including two sugarless options. You pick the dessert you would like to have served to you during the intermission. The dessert costs around $5 extra.
Then, while staff members clear the tables and the audience members use the restrooms, the buffet tables disappear and the stage rolls forward to take their place. A techie wearing all black and carrying a power tool of some kind fastens the stage in place. The announcer asks everyone to blow out the candles on their tables.
The first time I went to B&B, I shied away from sharing a four-seat table with strangers, and the best two-seat tables had been reserved months earlier, so the box office staff put me at a two-seater that was at the side of the stage. When the stage moved forward into the audience, I was only inches away and on the same level, so it felt as if I were ON the stage with the actors. Sometimes they spit on me as they sang. (I’m sure they couldn’t help it!)
That seat assignment that first time was interesting for other reasons as well. For example, when the lead man sang, “Oh, what a beautiful morning!” I saw only his (very attractive) back. Most of the audience was in front of me, just as it was for him. It was thrilling to pretend that I was the one with that gorgeous voice, enthralling the crowd. I tried not to be distracting, but I couldn’t help smiling at all of those people smiling back at “us.”
That is, I smiled until someone took a “flash-less” photo and sent a piercing red beam of light into my eyes. Ouch! The actor didn’t falter, but I was ready to run around the tables and smack the camera out of that selfish audience member’s hands.
By the way, can anyone tell me the name of that actor-singer? I seem to have lost my “Oklahoma!” program.
I liked having that little table to myself, and I liked being a vicarious power-singer, but after a while I got tired of seeing only the actors’ backs. I decided that next time I would brave sharing a larger table with strangers in the center of the house. I imagined saying “hello” and then keeping to myself.
But I discovered Thursday night that it is odd, no, it is impossible to keep to yourself when you are eating at a tiny table with two other people. You have no choice but to introduce yourself and make small talk. Fortunately, the people who shared my table were a very nice couple from Kokomo. He was a Free Methodist pastor and she was an elementary school art teacher. They had been to B&B a couple times before with their Bible study group. She had already seen and loved a production of “Run for Your Wife” at the Derby Dinner Theatre near Louisville as part of a “girls’ night out.”
If they thought it was weird or sad for me to be there by myself, they didn’t show it. Chatting with them turned out to be a pleasant addition to my evening. I didn’t feel comfortable taking notes for my review in front of them, but I solved that by scribbling furiously in the restroom during intermission and in my car after the show. Still, I think I will see if I can somehow score one of the good two-seater tables the next time I go to B&B as a reviewer.
If I weren’t reviewing a show, however, I think the most enjoyable thing would be to reserve one of the six-seater tables on the floor, or a couple of the four-seater tables on one of the upper tiers, to celebrate a special occasion with several friends. When one of the actors, Jon Lambert, came out to give the curtain talk for “Run for Your Wife,” he said, “We have several people celebrating birthdays here tonight. When I call your name, give us an ‘oi.’ After all, it’s a British show.”
One of the birthday celebrants had balloons tied to his table. Another man had come all the way from Poland to celebrate his birthday at B&B. When I went to see “Oklahoma!” there were several birthday parties there, too, plus a couple who were celebrating their wedding anniversary.
At both shows, the person giving the curtain talk asked members of the B&B VIP Club to raise their hands. I was astonished to see how many people belonged. I think they get free desserts, but still: the shows and the service must be consistently good, too, to inspire such loyalty.
So what about the shows?
Well, I enjoyed the music of “Oklahoma!” very much – those beautiful voices! – but as I say, I saw it mostly from behind.
“Run for Your Wife” was…interesting.
The opening music was the theme song from the “Married with Children” TV show. (Sound design by Daniel Hesselbrock.) It was the perfect thing to help B&B audiences understand what they were about to see. In other words, it prepared us to relate that kind of American white trash humor to this kind of British humor.
I never really understood the popularity of “Married with Children,” though, and there was a lot of homophobic language in “Run for Your Wife” that just felt tired and mean to me, too, rather than funny. This play opened in London in 1983 and ran for years and years. The playwright, Ray Cooney, in an interview with The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain in the spring of 2005, said, “I don’t have anything to say. I just want to make people laugh.” But his play does make a statement about who it is okay to make fun of. It makes a statement that is still, unfortunately, very comfortable to a lot of people. It made me uncomfortable.
Director J.R. Stuart and the B&B cast have made this potentially offensive farce into something special in spite of itself. If you can just sort of ignore the “abnormal fairy, nancy, pansy” crap, the physical humor in this particular production is outstanding. It is detailed and imaginative. It is impeccably choreographed. And it is delivered with faultless timing and non-stop, high-level energy.
It fascinated me. And it made me laugh. Out loud. Hard. Over and over again.
The inexhaustible Eddie Curry plays a mild-mannered taxi driver, John Smith, who just sort of fell into bigamy. Neither his prim wife, Mary (Sarah Hund), nor his horny wife, Barbara (Jill Kelly), knows about the other. John is tired all of the time from maintaining two marriages and two households, but he is happy.
One day, however, he gets hit on the head while trying to help a woman who is being mugged. Now the hospital needs to know his correct address, an eager newspaper reporter (Jon Lambert) wants to take his photo for being a hero, and two appealingly earnest police officers (Michael Haws and Adam O. Crowe) want to ask him questions. He persuades his loopy friend and neighbor (Jeff Stockberger) to help him keep everyone in the dark about his dual existence, but of course, the situation becomes increasingly hopeless and hilarious, especially when another neighbor, a flaming gay man (Sean Blake) enters the mix.
Blake’s portrayal of that stereotype is far from tired or predictable, by the way. In fact, it is exquisite.
Director Stuart’s use of the 1980s living room set, designed and lit by Michael Layton, is very cool, too. When Mary and Barbara first enter and each opens one half of the curtains to let in the sunlight, you think that the set will be divided down the middle, with the action of Mary’s life with John on one side and Barbara’s life with him on the other. After all, each side has two doors, two framed prints, one end table with a huge cordless telephone, and one chair with a mesh wastebasket next to it. However, there is only one sofa in the middle, and the wives’ separate actions quickly overlap the whole space. It sounds confusing, but somehow the two locations remain differentiated and yet nobody crashes into anyone else. This adds another satisfying layer of humor.
Certain funny elements of the costumes, such as the wives’ big hairstyles (wig design by Daniel Benslay), Sergeant Porterhouse’s apron, and Bobby Franklin’s hot pants and gleamingly-lotioned legs, add another satisfying layer. B&B’s resident costumer designer is Brian Horton.
I inexplicably developed a wee crush on the actor, Jeff Stockberger, when he pushed a newspaper through various orifices of his body, but that’s a topic for a different blog.
“Run for Your Wife” continues at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre through Sunday, February 3. For more information about this show, or about the upcoming production of “West Side Story,” please call 317-872-9664. B&B is on the northwest side of Indy, near the Pyramids.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com