February is the cruellest month. Suicide flanked by heart-shaped balloons. I get through it as only a member of the ironic generation can: I do dinner theatre and I do it drunk. The Mysteriously Yours.... Dinner Theatre, located in the gothic metropolis of Toronto, was my destination. How else to wile away February's darkest hours-crudely lined as they are with pink crêpe paper-but to sit girdled in your best taffeta, eating rolls hard as rocks whilst washed-out actors hurl their rage at deaf senior citizens. How else, indeed.
Drinks: Specialty cocktails, $6.85; Wine, $24-$80 a bottle, $4.95 a glass.
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Payment: At the door. Interac, Visa, MasterCard, Amex, cash
Reservations: Yes (credit card required)
Veronica's Verdict: Kill Me Now.
The Mysteriously Yours... Dinner Theatre information package, brimming with camp and exclamation-marked promises, wins me over when I look at it. "What's this?!" it cries. "Suspicious characters mingling at your cocktail reception? Was that a confession of jealousy you overhead? And who is that mysterious woman you're talking to??!!" Well. Never you mind. All part of the whodunit magic that Mysteriously Yours... promises. The suspense, we are assured, will be unbearable. And the jokes, oh those will fly non-stop. There will be laughter. There will be murder. There will be music. And we, the mere maw, will have our parts to play in the fun!
So. Bored to death of burlesque houses and Korean karaoke, I called 1-800-NOT-DEAD and made reservations for two. I spoke with a woman named Candy. Candy was so sorry. There were no more tables for two. We would have to be seated at a table for eight. Did we mind terribly? No? Oh good. Now were we aware that the actors would be sitting among us? And that we would be helping the detective solve the case? Was it our anniversary, birthday, funeral, etc.? No? Oh. Because if it was, all we had to do was tell Candy and she would make sure that we were really involved in the fun. Candy asked that we arrive between 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM for our "gourmet meal," which, she was sorry to say, did not include drinks-alcoholic or otherwise. As the intrigue began at eight, Candy advised that we not be late.
We were late, me and my cowboy for the night, when we stumbled down the red stairs to the "subterranean nightspot" that is Mysteriously Yours..., drunk from martini-bar-hopping, our tiaras askew. Candy greeted us with a tight smile, told us to put on our nametags and hurry on to dinner. We careened into the vast, dimly lit dining hall, filled to the gills with fat women in sequins and waiters trying visibly not to weep. A huge stage, ominously curtained in blue velvet loomed before us. "Table seventeen?" asked a gentleman with a little goatee and a British accent that I'm sure could have been ripped from him as easily as the beard of a department-store Santa. I held my tongue and followed him.
Already seated at our table were two sour-faced siamese women in glasses. They smiled stiffly at us as we slumped into our chairs. There was a young couple too, Vanda and Thom, who beamed toothpaste-commercial grins at everyone, full of news and unnecessary information. It was their anniversary! Oh, they had been here many times before! Oh, it was such fun! Oh, and did we know the actors actually came and sat with us at the table? Oh!
There was a cocktail menu, thank heaven. You may well remember that I was sorely disappointed by the dearth of kitschy drinks on my last culinary adventure. This was not to be the case this time. Mysteriously Yours... boasts a long list of expensive and aptly named drinks: Poison Kiss, Deadly Affair, Arsenic Cream ... I had a Shoot Me, my cowboy a Kill Me Now. Though we didn't die, Vanda's prattle did grow dimmer. And we were able to order our meals in peace. I wasn't surprised so much by the contents of the menu but by the number of choices. There were three possible appetizers-a daily soup and two green salads. For the main course, five options-chicken, lamb, salmon, prime rib and vegetarian risotto. Dessert was trifle, chocolate torte, cheesecake or tiramisu. A sound selection. (There are also, for the so inclined, daily specials available in each category, $10.95 extra.)
I expected dinner to be tragic. Perversely, I wanted dinner to be tragic. What I got was fouler than foul: a dinner that was adequate. The bread was fine. The soup-sweet potato with a coconut-curry garnish-was thin and cloying but not nearly as bad as I had hoped. We both wanted the lamb, but they were out of it. So I had the salmon and my cowboy had the beef. He didn't say much but he ate it all, so I knew it couldn't have been terrible. As for the black-sesame-crusted salmon in a citrus, vanilla-bean glaze, complete with white rice and vegetable medley, well, it was reassuringly bland but it was not half as dry as I'd dreamed.
My pleasure in the ironic, deep as it doth run, will never extend to dessert. A child of the nineties, I took a chance on the tiramisu with the sincere wish that I would enjoy it. Alas, it was so grocery-store-birthday-cake-bad that even I, gluttonous sugar whore, couldn't eat it. So I wolfed down my cowboy's chocolate torte-unyieldingly, but this time thankfully, mediocre. So dinner was tragic, in a way. Tragic in its mediocrity. I was served a meal I couldn't laugh at. Or even weep over. But I was soon to be consoled. For the theatre portion of dinner theatre was just as dreadful as my fantasy.
The intrigue started at around eight, as Candy had promised. At least that's when the actors crawled out of their holes and began making fun of our clothes. I'm certain the poor elderly woman in leather pants will never live down the moment when the "brain doctor" pointed at her and screamed, "Kinky pants! Kinky pants! Look everybody! Kink! Kink!" We met them all. The loveable old Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The mysterious woman in the veil, with her cryptic words and her frighteningly pale blue eyes. And of course the "brain doctor" whose antics were perhaps the most aggressively "all in good fun."
Once the actors had their fill of pointing at us and laughing, the play began, not on the stage at all, but around and in between our tables (the stage, so Vanda informed me, would be used later for dancing). And the play was more of the same: people who had been dumb enough to inform Candy that, yes, it was their birthday, anniversary, etc., were made to stand up and endure more hilarity at their expense. Woven between these well-meant humiliations was the tenuous whodunit plot of CSI: Baker Street. A comedy. A murder mystery. A (shudder) musical. You can only imagine. I was there to witness it and I could barely imagine. Saucy songs were sung by the drunken old whore, Mrs. Hudson-ditties we all know and love like "Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hatpin." The dialogue was filled with naughty innuendo designed to make amply bosomed matrons cluck their tongues and titter. Puns too, mainly of the "Surely, you're not serious ... I'm serious, and don't call me Shirley" variety had us all choking on our Kill Me Nows.
By the end of the evening, everyone at table seventeen hated me and my cowboy. For we were not, I'm afraid, much help in solving the case. We were too busy drawing pornographic pictures on our clue sheets, drunkenly feeding each other the dregs of my tiramisu and then pretending to die of food poisoning. I have a dim memory of Candy grabbing us both by the scruff of our necks and hurling us into the street, but I can't say for certain. No matter though, I remember thinking, as we laughingly dragged ourselves through the February dark. That's one more day of the cruellest month killed with a bang rather than a whimper. All thanks to two hundred dollars and the good people at Mysteriously Yours...
Veronica Tartley (Mona Awad) has eaten, shamelessly or barely at all, in nearly every city in the world. She enjoys rain, hurling things against walls and walks on the beach. She lives beautifully in an undisclosed location at the edge of the known universe. There, she weeps her mascara tears, churns butter in the old style and listens to French accordion music.