Theatre Review: The Curse of the Pekinese Peregrine

Before I left my apartment to attend the premiere of the latest from Ottawa’s preeminent dinner theatre company, Eddie May Mysteries, last Saturday, my roommate asked me to evaluate whether or not the production, performed at Scarlett’s Dinner Theatre, an intimate space above Fat Tuesday’s New Orleans Experience on York Street, would make for a good date.

After an evening spent jumping out of my seat due to unexpected gunfire, watching guests at art collector Kaspar Gluttmann’s (Jody Haucke) fine art auction bleed out on-stage and returning from the restroom to find the indomitable secretary-turned-sleuth Effie Palomino (Kelly Rigole) flirting with my date, I can say with confidence: “Absolutely!”

The Curse of the Pekinese Peregrine

Directed by: Zach Counsil

Starring: Ray Besharah, Kelly Rigole, Jody Haucke, Dana Cryderman, Tim Oberholtzer, Richard Gélinas, Nick Amott

The Curse of the Pekinese Peregrine is a fast-paced, madcap murder mystery chock-full of film noir flair and physical comedy. It takes place during the aforementioned art auction, attended by the cream of Ottawa high society, following on the heels of the unsolved murder of private eye Lou Sweeney and the theft of the Pekinese Peregrine, an infamous Chinese artefact said to carry with it a powerful curse. Naturally, this being an Eddie May Mystery, the sparkling evening quickly dissolves into murder and mayhem.

For those unfamiliar with Eddie May Mysteries and, more generally, dinner theatre, The Curse of the Pekinese Peregrine is hardly your grandmother’s stuffy theatre experience. The Pekinese Peregrine’s eclectic cast of characters – including the likes of sexy chanteuse Birdie LaChance (Dana Cryderman), her mustachioed stalker (Joey Pyro, played by Nick Amott), various security personnel and Eddie May (Ray Besharah) himself – regularly step off of Scarlett’s elevated stage to mingle with the dining audience, discussing the auction and theorizing who amongst them could be responsible for the evening’s macabre turn of events. 

As the night progresses and both the bodies and clues accumulate, the audience is invited to leave their tables in order to examine bags of evidence, eventually taking a stab at correctly identifying the murderer themselves.

Directed by Zach Counsil, who doesn’t shy away from the use of special effects – from clever strobe lighting to copious amounts of fake blood – or the occasional song-and-dance number, Pekinese Peregrine is thoroughly entertaining. While the spot-on physicality of Nick Amott and Richard Gélinas (playing a rough-and-tumble security agent) stood out during Saturday’s performance, the entire cast did a phenomenal job of improvising with the audience and played out staged scenes with energy and a clear sense of play.

Also of note are Jody Haucke’s accurate period costumes, David Magladry’s wild lighting and Steven Lafond and Allan Gauthier’s cinematic music (though the cast was sometimes drowned out by the powerful speaker system used to play it).

Add to that mix an impressive three-course dinner (salad, entrée, dessert – might I recommend the BBQ chicken?), and I’d say you’ve got yourself a great alternative to the dinner-and-a-movie cliché. 

The Curse of the Pekinese Peregrine plays at Scarlett’s Dinner Theatre at 62 York Street every Saturday night through the spring of 2012. For reservations, please contact the Eddie May Box Office at (613)-850-9700 or Tickets include the show and a three-course dinner.