Arts & Events » Arts and Culture

Kill ‘em Before the Chicken

Jim Daab’s Mystery Dinner Playhouse turns 10.


“Traditionally, theater was always based on festivals and food,” says Daab. “The idea of dinner and a show. This is just a small jump to do something like this.”

It is, in fact, a most interesting way to take your supper. Prepared by the chefs at the Governor’s Inn Best Western, the meal builds through the soup and salad, and climaxes with the main course, with dénouement just after desert — all of it served by the actors themselves, in character, as the plot unfolds.

In the current script, the audience stars as guests at a 1860s-era Southern cotillion hosted by a wealthy plantation owner attempting to marry off his ditzy daughters. Each course is served during a break in the action, written cleverly into the script. At one point, Colonel Simpson, the dignified Southern dad, finds himself in a climactic quandary posing the question, “What shall we do?” After a pregnant pause, Brett Rutgers, “a gambler of vague origins, and questionable repute,” suggests, “We could serve the salad.”

There are no curtains, no lights to set the mood, only costumes and a smattering of props to help suspend the disbelief. It’s a testament to the actors’ talent and Daab’s excellent, campy scripts that an audience could remain engrossed so totally for more than two hours of slapstick and sitcom.

Suspension of disbelief goes a long way when it comes to the food, which might not fare nearly as well in a review of its own. Chopped iceberg lettuce daubed with vinaigrette and tough beef strips and mashed potatoes leave one a bit wanting. Still, the whole experience is easily worth the ticket price ($34.95).

Daab has completed 25 scripts to date and has had success selling them to other dinner theater groups across the county through his Web site In addition to their Richmond location, the Daabs run two additional theaters, one in Williamsburg and the other in Virginia Beach.

When it comes to writing, Daab likes to keep it fresh, setting his plays at an Irish wake, a school prom, or on the set of a game show, but he always sticks to a few rules of thumb. “Someone usually dies between the salad and the main course,” he says. “We say ‘Kill ‘em before the chicken.’” Which certainly leaves one wondering what’s in store for dessert. S

The Mystery Dinner Playhouse’s “Frankly Scarlett, You’re Dead” runs through Feb. 7 at the Best Western Governor’s Inn, 9826 Midlothian Turnpike. Shows take place every Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday through Thursday for private parties of 35 people or more. Tickets cost $24.95-$34.95. Call 1-888-471-4802 or go to

Add a comment