TheatreNOW, Wilmington’s premier dinner theatre, is bringing back Hank Toler’s “We Can Be Heroes” along with “brinner”—or breakfast for dinner. “We Can Be Heroes” ran a couple of years ago and is being resurrected as part of the Stage block launched at the 23rd annual Cucalorus Festival.
Captain Spartan (Jake Huber) is the wealthy heir to a superhero legacy. In his mansion, the Champions of Justice meet and pool their powers to protect our fair city. We meet Bear Man (Zeb Mims), a not-so bright but very sweet and cuddly hero with the strength of 10 grizzlies, maybe; The Asker (Tony Choufani), who owes a lot to The Riddler; and, last but not least, the blue-collar working hero, Jack Hammer (Blake Howard). The four are not the most capable or brilliant, or even reality-oriented, but they do take friendship very seriously. After a series of disastrous losses of team members—one turned into a cat, another killed when she flew into powerlines—they are searching for another team member to fill out the roster.
Enter: Lady Luck (Holly Cole Brown). These guys just don’t stand a chance: She’s pretty, smart and clearly in awe of them all. Mims’ Bear Man, especially, makes a sweet blundering fool of himself over her—much to Hammer’s disgust. Or is it jealousy? Howard has the angry, New Jersey guy down cold, but to his credit, he manages not to make it a one-note joke. Choufani’s Asker is an “asker” of questions. He is the brains behind the operation, albeit paranoid, not-entirely-sane brains. All joking aside, he really does listen—and he really does think, and it is fascinating to watch him maneuver the others to do what they need to.
The alleged leader of the group is Captain Spartan. Jake Huber plays this absurd character with so much seriousness and determination it causes giggles every time he walks onstage. Together the group believes they keep our city safe from terrible villains. Of course, they are all overgrown children who would fall apart were it not for the ministration of Kingsley (Craig Kittner), Spartan’s butler. He is supposed to be an allusion to Bruce Wayne’s Alfred, but Spartan treats him abominably and it is almost cringingly embarrassing every time Kingsley walks onstage to witness Spartan’s behavior. Kittner’s Kingsley is not cringing or servile by any stretch. He radiates contempt from the first moment we see him.
Just when it looks like the Champions are consumed by fighting about the new team member, Baron Von Bedlam (Jamey Stone)—arch enemy of the Champions of Justice—sends a video transmission detailing his latest nefarious plans. Sporting an absurd Bond-villain Russian accent, Stone’s Barron is equal parts insulting and intimidating. Or so we think, until he has equipment failure and his wife (Holli Saperstein) has to try to help him turn the camera off. What ensues is a bickering old married couple who do love each other, but, well, let’s just say neither is exactly over-awed by the other. Saperstein and Stone completely steal the show. Considering how funny Toler’s script and performances are, it is really saying something.
Here is the thing: Toler’s script is very witty and absurd—in the best traditions of Adam West’s “Batman” crossed with “Saturday Night Live.” But its core message about friendship and how we treat each other doesn’t get lost in the jokes. Bear Man might not be too bright, but he is loyal and forgiving. There is a lot to be said for that in this day and age.
Just like the heroes eat a breakfast of champions three meals a day, Chef Denise Gordon has devised a three-course brinner that is out of this world. The excitement begins with a sun-dried tomato and rosemary quiche—savory and scrumptious—but it can’t compare with the spinach artichoke muffins. The problem with the muffins is they taste so yummy, and are made with vegetables, so it is easy to be convinced they’re a healthy snack. If left alone with a tray of them, I could not be held responsible for my actions. When the main course arrived, it looked like Thanksgiving had come to our table of four. We had a small person with us, and I am ashamed to say, I did not model good table manners. I dug in like a “Sesame Street” monster—but it was all so good!
The veggie lasagna frittata managed to blend all the elements of lasagna and quiche to make something that would satiate the pickiest foodie. Artichokes, mushrooms, cheese, eggs, tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese equals layers of creamy goodness.
Gordon has a “Hero Slaw” on the side that is tangier than the average cole slaw. Think less mayonnaise and more Eastern flair. It’s pretty great.
But the junk-food lover in me swooned at crispy-onion-and cheese-covered tater tots. It’s like the best elements of Waffle House, cheese fries and childhood all melded together. If I was dining alone, I would have liked the dish. Seriously. But the pièce de résistance is the ramen bowl. It is not like the Oodles of Noodles from Food Lion, either. Oh no. Gordon has wonderful, long twirly noodles, carrots, bean sprouts, and sautéed mushrooms in an amazing broth, all topped with a poached egg. It’s like heaven in bowl, and where to begin? Not too salty. Not too brothy, but just wonderful.
Maybe that’s the word for the whole evening: wonderful. The script is funny. The performances are fun. The food is great. The whole building is filled with reminders everywhere that there is good and kindness in the world. Sometimes we just have to laugh at ourselves in order to see what has been staring us in the face the whole time. One of my dinner companions was about 6; though it isn’t a “children’s show,” per se, he got a lot of the humor, and there are no overtly “adult” situations. In addition, he really loved the whipped cream that came with dessert.