‘Night of The Laughing Dead’ Delivers Laughs with Dinner (Three and a Half Stars)

‘Night of the Laughing Dead’, Written by Krystal Bly and Christian Galpin; Directed by Deric Bender and Christian Galpin. At the Elephant & Castle Restaurant, 161 Devonshire St., Boston. Produced by Mystery Cafe. Performances through November 23rd.
Looking for a little comedy to go with your meal but tired of the MSG headaches that you get when you visit the Comedy Studio at the Hong Kong in Harvard Square (great comedy venue, OK food)? The folks at Mystery Cafe have come up with a pretty good alternative across town in Boston’s Financial District with their newest offering, “Night of the Laughing Dead” at the Elephant & Castle Restaurant. Capitalizing on the popularity of zombie-themed TV shows like The Walking Dead, a host of popular brain-eating movies and even zombie-themed 5K fun runs, the opening of the show also coincided with the most popular time of the year for zombification – Halloween season.
I should begin by saying that my experience with interactive dinner theater was previously limited to a lone visit to the Medieval Manor in the early 80’s, but this show is a lot less booze-fueled and a lot more family-friendly than the good-natured debauchery served up by the King and his Fool at the Manor.  I’m happy to report that my overall experience was a good one, and best summed up after the show by one of the cast member’s explanation of dinner theater in general. “It may not be great theater,” she laughed, “but it is good fun.” And funny. The show uses a loose, thinly written script that leaves lots of room for improvisation on the part of the cast (and also includes audience interaction), and once the show got rolling and the cast found its rhythm, the laughs came pretty consistently.
The premise for this show is that audience members are “survivors”  that have been invited to the Zombie Apocalypse Prevention Society’s (ZAPS) secure location where the world’s top experts in the field of Armageddon Preparation shield you from the inevitable invasion of zombie hordes. And, of course, feed you a pretty decent meal in the process. No canned rations here. We are first introduced to the cast after we enter the “underground bunker” as they circulate through the audience and engage the audience in character. The players are broadly drawn characters right out of central casting B-movies and the familiar caricatures work well for this genre. The cast is mostly young but display some pretty good comedy chops, especially when they improvise.
There’s the militant survivalist (Deric Bender); his hot Navy Seal/Black Ops trained younger sister (Bailey Libby); her husband, the easily intimidated town sheriff (Alan White); the sexy evil scientist (India Pearl); and the goofy and horny but technologically adept teenager (Jonathan Krieger, who nearly steals the show with his over the top nerdiness). Each character provides a thumbnail sketch of their talents and purpose before we are launched into the plot of this apocalyptic scenario. In addition to the zombie shenanigans, there is a “murder mystery” that audience members can solve before the close of the performance, but it’s really just a device used to draw in the audience and create a participatory experience. Which the show does really well.
The script also calls for audience members to play characters in the play, which they do from their dinner tables with a script in hand after being selected by the cast. Although the selections of audience/cast members seemed random, the folks that were chosen really threw themselves into the roles and were actually pretty entertaining. Another aspect of the participatory experience was that audience members were encouraged to engage and interact with other members at their table, which is a totally different experience than sitting passively in a theater. The audience was wildly diverse, with ages ranging from grammar school aged kids to the AARP generation, and there was a nice sense of community to the show.
The food is pretty standard but well prepared American fare like you might find at a wedding, and included a vegetarian option along with steak and chicken, and the portions were ample (and included dessert). Another positive feature of the show was the location. Most entertainment experiences in the city of Boston, be it a sporting event, theater or concert, come with a whopping parking fee. Because the Elephant & Castle Restaurant is located in the heart of the Financial District (a ghost town on weekends) there’s plenty of on street parking as well as a garage discount offered by the restaurant ($5 with validation).
This show is a good night out, especially as a group experience (there was a table of twenty celebrating a birthday and some smaller family groups) and the people I spoke with after the show seemed pretty enthusiastic about their experience. For more info visit: http://mysterycafe.com/.