Grafton Street Dinner Theatre Has Whisky in the Jar

One of the most fun aspects about being submerged in Halifax’s theatre scene is the element of nostalgia I am treated to around every familiar and cozy bend. Halifax, after all, is the city of my youth. It is the city where I was first introduced to the marvels of live theatre. It is where I performed in my first play (The Kitchen Clock when I was eight), where I wrote my first play (something inspired by Full House when I was eight), where I first learned how to improvise, played Zip, Zap, Zop, and idolized a plethora of Canadian theatre stars who graced Neptune Theatre’s stage. The footsteps of Little Amanda are embedded deep within these streets and I feel a peaceful sense of oneness to the heartbeat of this town. In a way, the shadows of my past will always be here.
One place which has my heart ensnared is Grafton Street Dinner Theatre. Grafton Street Dinner Theatre is located at 1741 Grafton Street in downtown Halifax, and the building that stands there used to belong to my uncle’s father, Ralph Henry Connor. In fact, the building that now houses Grafton Street Dinner Theatre, Cheers Pub and the Liquor Dome is still called The Connor Building in his honour. For this reason, my aunt and uncle, Carol and Don Connor, have always patronized Grafton Street Dinner Theatre and they have developed a unique relationship with many of the actors from this fine establishment.
When I was a child my aunt and uncle used to hire Grafton Street actors to attend their business parties to play fun little tricks on my aunt’s colleagues. Steve Antle played “the waiter from Hell” at one particularly fancy function at the Westin Hotel, and Mark Scholz burst into a Staff Party my aunt was hosting at her house, pretending to be my uncle’s outrageously obnoxious, freeloading, cousin Bubba. I grew up thinking that hiring actors from the dinner theatre to make a party more interesting was a perfectly ordinary aspect of professional business. In hindsight of course, such interactions as a small child with such characters as Scholz’s Cousin Bubba explain so clearly my fascination with actors and theatrics.
Of course, Grafton Street is no longer the Dinner Theatre of my childhood, Mark Scholz and Steve Antle, along with all the other actors who clambered for silly gigs provided by the Connor family, have long-since moved along. I don’t get the opportunity to attend dinner theatre very often, and so when I was given the opportunity to attend last week with my colleagues from Neptune Theatre School, I jumped at the chance. Off I went merrily to the Connor Building.
Dinner Theatre is a very specific art form, except at Stage West and the Mayfield, which are musicals with buffets attached to them, but dinner theatre, where actors serve you and the characters are gigantic spoofs of themselves and the script only exists to get you to the next song, is a very specific art form. It cannot be compared to a David Mamet play. It can not be compared to an Irving Berlin musical. Dinner Theatre isn’t supposed to be intellectual or socially relevant. It isn’t supposed to be a profound artistic experience. Dinner Theatre is supposed to be fun. Dinner Theatre is supposed to be melted cheese over ham. Such is the current show playing at Grafton Street Dinner Theatre, Someone Wake Mr. O’Brien.
This show, written and directed by Cyndi Locke, is structured as the third day of a wake for Patrick Matthew O’Brien, and its plot is beyond silly and frivolous fraught with puns. The music has a jaunty Celtic flair and the food is delicious. The highlight of the evening is undoubtedly the music, especially the cast’s rendition of “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” and the a-cappella harmonies of the female performers, Krista Lane, Tiffany O’Donnell, Melanie MacKenzie and Miranda Lever. Colin Boyd provides some gorgeous saxophone and it is especially impressive to watch all the actors rotate playing all the instruments in their own band. The standout performer is Krista Lane, whose comedic sensibility always shines through with as much earnestness one could possibly muster while existing in Dinner Theatre Land. Her performance of “Into the Mystic” will rock your gypsy soul.
Someone Wake Mr. O’Brien will appeal to its own particular dinner theatre audience, and for those who love to gather with their friends for an evening of laughter, music, and a larger-than-life theatrical romp with a medley of fresh vegetables, you couldn’t find a lovelier spot. Indeed, it was quite the festive evening to share with my colleagues, even for such a supercilious and intellectual theatre aficionado; there was no profound catharsis, but there *was* a merry “Cha Cha Cha!”
Someone Wake Mr. O’Brien plays at Grafton Street Dinner Theatre until September 13th, 2009. For the schedule and pricing information please consult this website.

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