Johnny’s List of Quirky Boston Events: 05/20/08

Hello, New England!

Here’s your week in weird.

The weird event of the week is undoubtedly PirateFest! Avast, matey! May 24. Newport, RI. Spread across the city, it involves cruises, costume competitions, singing sea chanteys, and ending with a ball.

Of course, while you’re there, check out the Newport mansions & cliff walk, which are amazing enough that you don’t really need an excuse to visit Newport. Just go. The mansions are museums based in preserved mansions of the 1900 time period. The cliff walk is a lovely ocean view stroll, which is free. There’s a great beach there too and plenty of sea side shops and discoveries to be made. It’s like Cape Cod but closer. 424 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI. 401-847-1000.

Also weird is the Street Performer’s Festival at Faneuil Hall. Apparently Forbes Magazine ranked Faneuil Hall over Disney World in the 25 Most Visited Tourist Sites. And every Memorial Day weekend they have a celebration with magicians, jugglers, and various hustlers. May 24-26. Boston, MA. 617-523-1300.

I’ve just checked out one of the many dinner theatres around Boston: the Murder Mystery Cafe, at They have regular shows, more than one per night at various locations around Boston. The show is set up like improv comedy. Actors not only play roles, they ad lib, joke around, and even serve you food. The quality of improv comedy varies… but generally it’s a fun time at Improv Boston, for example, because even when the actors stumble, the audience is on their side.

Unfortunately, I can’t say much good about Mystery Cafe. One of the actors confided to me that they have no rehearsals, and it shows. Because of the dinner, the production is 2.5 hours long with no easy way to leave early (unless you want to go unfed). They charge $48, but including an expected tip, you’re basically getting a $15 dinner and a $15 show for the price of $60.

Not that I feel the Mystery Cafe hit the mark of most $15 improv comedy shows. The actors talked over each other, the dialogue and plot were hard to follow, and they sometimes chose shy members of the audience to tease and touch, making some painfully awkward moments. One of the actors started throwing things (stealing the scene when it was not his turn) and came close to starting a food fight. I’ve heard that one of the basics of improv comedy is never say ‘no’ to your partner in a scene… always take their suggestions and build upon them. Half the cast seemed aware of these basics; the other half did not.

My favorite improv group remains Improv Boston, in Cambridge at They’re easy to get to, inexpensive, and continually are doing new concepts, not just “ongoing shows”.

You’ve heard of The Producers, first a movie and then a Broadway smash. It’s running now through June 1 at the North Shore Music Theatre.

I’ve just heard about the Lexington Arts Walk, May 23-Jun 3. It’s a bunch of smaller open studios and concerts. It seems like very “community” oriented, not really a draw, but fun if you are already in the region.

WBOS Earthfest made a smart move a couple of years ago and put their concert in May, when it’s warmer, instead of on Earth Day. So it’s May 24 this year. Hatch Shell, Esplanade. 12-6pm. Free. Three stages, lots of exhibitors. A rain or shine event.

It turns out that the free sailing day at the Boston Sailing Center isn’t actually once a year. They do it a bunch of Saturdays including this Saturday, May 24 and they call it an “open house”. Lewis Wharf, Atlantic Avenue, Boston, MA. 617-227-4198. They do a big one in April and then regular open houses throughout the warm season. Free rides around the harbor and 10% off courses. 1-5pm. Dress warm. No experience necessary.

Davis Farmland has the largest maze in New England. It’s a corn field which has been planted into a maze-like shape. It takes 90 minutes to solve the maze, which I helped to design a couple of times. This weekend is special because across the road, in their animal petting zoo, they are having Construction Day! It’s May 24-26 and this is when you can try driving a tractor. 978-422-MOOO. I have this sinking feeling that it’s for kids only but show up and beg. Works for me. 145 Redstone Hill, Sterling, MA.

For a small city, Providence, the capitol of Rhode Island, is doing a great job with tourism, arts, and nightlife. Perhaps their biggest cultural night event is Waterfire. The Providence River, which winds directly through the city, has these metal baskets they throw wood into and burn it. This creates flames all along the riverwalk and it’s fun to stroll around and listen to music and buy stuff from vendors. Opening night is May 24 and it runs through Nov 11. Providence Place, Providence, RI. 401 751-1221.

Continuing events:

— The Indiana Jones movie opens on May 22

— Gloria Estefan performs at Foxwoods on May 23

— Neil Gaiman comes May 23 to MIT,