Ottawa is no stranger to murder-mystery dinner theatre, with companies like Eddie May Murder Mysteries and Murder Mystery Ottawa having entertained local crowds for over 20 years. The genre itself relies on the combination of the classic tropes of the mystery novel with moments of audience participation, and usually (though not always) ends with the viewers and the performers solving the puzzle together. The narratives are extended over a longer period of time so as to incorporate dinner service and bathroom breaks for the audience; not to mention it gives everyone a chance to talk to the passing-by characters to try and sleuth out more clues.
Now there is a new company on the block, QN Theatre, whose members are hoping to provide “more consistent work for the local artists” by producing work that is “innovative, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining”. Their first piece Who Done the Donald? is a murder-mystery that presents the classic ‘whodunnit?’ as an anchor to a hilariously absurd tale inspired by contemporary political events. Though it may not be the most innovative in subject matter (Trump is an easy though no less valid target) the event as a whole was certainly a lot of fun to be a part of.
While touring her new book across North America, Hillary Clinton is shocked when newly inaugurated President Trump crashes her book signing in Ottawa, Ontario. Determined not to let the cheeto-coloured blowhard humiliate her on a national stage again, the two politicians throw down debate style much to the amusement (and respective horror) of accompanying characters like VP Mike Pence, Donald Trump Jr., John Q. Tackspair (standing in for the undecided voter) and the Associated Press. However, strange events start occurring post-debate: the President can’t access his Twitter and, almost like clockwork, Trump appears to implode in on himself and drops dead. Soon, everything becomes suspicious as we are tasked with questioning each character’s motives and actions surrounding the death of the President. And when everyone seems to have a possible motive for murder- how do you isolate the guilty party? I won’t reveal the twist, but I will say that the pay-off is ultimately worth it.
The real strength of this work lies in the performers themselves. Brennan Richardson as Donald Trump Jr. has a great blend of neediness and deep covetousness which gives credence to his whole “bitter-overlooked-oldest-son” motive. Hillary Clinton, played by Erika Seguin, is both hyper-restrained and robotic and makes for a hilarious turn of events when she eventually “breaks” character and sucks face with Mike Pence, played by Jon Dickey with an excellent deadpan. Last, but certainly not least, is Leslie Cserepy who plays the titular character Donald Trump. I was apprehensive going in to the performance that we were going to see an impression of Alec Baldwin doing Trump. It turns out my worries were needless because Cserepy really knocked it out of the park. His performance was so funny, yet nuanced in a way that in every single moment and in every single reaction he was fully embodying the character.
I will say that there were some aspects to this piece that could use some polishing. Some of the costumes could use a bit more attention to detail to really make them pop on stage. For example, Hillary’s wig was a bit of a mess and one of her blazers was missing buttons; and one character, who shall remain nameless for spoilers-sake, was lacking their iconic string bow tie and black browline frames. Also, there are moments when the staging feels a bit crowded with so many characters on stage at one time. Granted this might be because of the rather tight playing space and having to be constantly aware of the servers who are coming and going with food and drinks; however, since I was reviewing the very last performance of this production’s run I feel that they could have found more effective solutions to these issues such as incorporating some of the characters into the audience space.
Dinner theatre can seem inaccessible to some because of the higher ticket prices which more often than not are accompanied by a full meal service with drinks and the gratuity as additional expenses. QN Theatre makes this experience a trifle more accessible by bringing their work to the pub scene which encourages a much more casual vibe with shareable plates and daily drink specials. Hosted by Hooley’s Pub on Elgin St., the audience was mostly seated at the two large rectangular tables, with a few booths and tables scattered around the back of the space, facing one another where we were invited to get to know one another in between breaks to discuss our theories and hunches. While admission was still $30 for patrons at the door (there was a cheaper option available if you purchased your tickets in advance), I enjoyed the fact that you weren’t locked into eating an entire three-course meal and could, in fact, split on some nachos with some friends were you looking to stay on a bit of a budget.
I’d say that this company is definitely worth keeping on your radar. Though Who Done the Donald may have wrapped for now, what I saw that evening was more than encouraging for future works. I hope QN Theatre continues producing pub-theatre as it’s a great opportunity for audiences to experience all the fun that comes with a murder-mystery but in a less formal setting.