TheatreNOW’s current dinner theatre offering of “We Can Be Heroes” by Hank Toler is an absolute winner—which probably would come as a surprise to several of the characters in the show.
Captain Spartan (Jake Huber) could kindly be referred to as arrested development. Heir to an immense fortune, he just never grew up and has been in the care of his butler, Kingsley (Craig Kittner), all these many years. While Kingsley handles real life, Captain Spartan plays super heroes with his friends: The Asker (Phil Antonino), Jack Hammer (Blake Howard) and Bear Man (Zeb Mims).
It is a nice nod to see Antonino as The Asker, a parody of The Riddler (sort of) from Batman. Many audience members will remember his performance as The Joker in the Batman-meets-Sartre play “Gallery” at Browncoat Pub and Theatre last year. This time around he has a ridiculous Spanish accent. He uses both Facebook and Twitter, but not much else, to recommend him. Still, he sells himself with tremendous self-confidence. After all, that might be his greatest super power.
Blake Howard’s Jack Hammer has the supernatural ability to throw hammers and pound things. Although, he could be renamed “obnoxious blue collar guy from the northeast.” Howard has nailed my former next-door neighbor, down to the vaguely New York area accent.
Then there is Bear Man, who obtains the strength of 10 grizzly bears, but in reality is the ultimate teddy bear who just wants to snuggle. He is sweet, cute and trusting, but neither suave nor scary make it to the top 10 list of descriptors.
Into their midst wanders the newest member of the team: Lady Luck played by Holly Cole. Let’s just say none of these guys have much experience with women, especially not hot, sexy, brainy chicks with super powers. She is trouble, if ever it crossed the threshold, and at least Jack Hammer recognizes it, even if the rest of the poor saps don’t.
Things are about to get worse. Arch enemy Baron Von Bedlam (Jamie Stone) sends a video transmission to announce his plans to do arch evil things, including stealing a diamond. Thank the gods Stone and Holli Saperstein, who plays Mrs. Von Bedlam, are only on video—because they already steal the second act and there would be no stopping them in person. This real-life couple bring all the dry, acerbic bickering of the long married. He might be an evil genius, but she knows that he couldn’t pick up his socks if his life depended upon it.
Please do not misunderstand. Stone and Saperstien might steal the second act, but that requires some pretty over-the-top writing and delivery, because this whole show is ridiculously funny. Kittner’s rendition of the butler is anything but Alfred from Batman, rather as the most put-upon man on Earth is sympathy inspiring. When the switch in his head flips, the audience is totally prepared to back him up in his diabolical decision.
Huber does a wonderful job selling the idea that he is actually the leader of this rag-tag group of children. He knows how a leader should look and sound, but not how a leader actually does the hard work.
As the real power behind the throne, Antonino revels in pushing the buttons of his cohorts without flexing his influence unduly. Howard’s Jack Hammer though gets A-plusses for embracing physical comedy and managing to say, “It’s Hammer time!” with a straight face repeatedly.
Basically, “We Could Be Heroes” is everything I like about dinner theatre, without the mortifying audience participation that can be de reiguer at these events. Instead it presents a laughable premise, acted with total conviction, by a group of talented performers and a room full of people who are in on the joke.
Writer and director Hank Toler has produced a script that is funny, witty, entertaining, and ultimately a moral fable. He really structures it well and utilizes his tool box of dramatic irony, characterization and fast-paced dialogue to his advantage. Layered with a soundtrack that includes “We are the Champions” and “Kung Fu Fighting,” the tone is clearly set for the fantasy world of overindulged young men. It is truly hilarious and engaging.
I have to admit that when I arrived at TheatreNOW, I was worn out and tired from a long week—and an even longer three more days ahead. From behind the bar, Bony asked if I wanted a beer. I realized I needed caffeine and sugar to stay upright; a cherry Coke seemed the best alternative. By the time I left three hours later, the show and the nourishment of dinner had so revitalized me I could pick up with another three hours of work before bed.
As for the dinner portion of the evening, I have come to the conclusion that Chef Denise Gordon and my stomach are in some sort of psychic cahoots. I have a sweet tooth problem, so when a plate of three fresh, cinnamon, sugar-coated donut holes and espresso whipped cream arrived to my table, it felt like Christmas! The food theme of the show is called “Brinner”—breakfast for dinner. Finally, my prayers were answered: Dessert first!
Because the show is about children trapped in adult bodies, of course, dessert comes first, so the rest us benefit. Gordon has concocted a grown-up grilled cheese sandwich that is beyond comprehension: three cheeses, pimentos, a fried egg on top, and for non-Kosher friends, Applewood smoked bacon—and then there is more on the side! In my case, it was an oatmeal pie with bananas, maple syrup, blueberries, and walnuts. The pie completed every taste of crisp evenings by a wood stove, and was just as filling and nourishing as those cuddle-cold nights demand.
Gordon’s food is so decadent yet down to earth. It’s not pretentious but filling, and so delicious that diners want to eat every morsel. But there is so much there! By the time the extra-thick chocolate milkshake came out for the real dessert, I had to make a strategic plan to avoid a food coma. (It didn’t work; I was still overstuffed the next morning.)
The night was wonderful. There was laughing, comfort food, and recharging and revitalization. “We Could Be Heroes” serves up all in abundance. The performers are clearly having a great time onstage with a script that really lets them play with each other. It is a show that would be more fun to share with friends, so grab a couple and make it a great night out.