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Review: DO OR DIE Slays At The Sunset Restaurant; Don't Miss Murderous Mondays

"Oh, hey," you might say, "it's Monday night. There's that dinner-murder thing in Glen Burnie, let's go!" Cute, but no.. You need reservations, as Do Or Die Interactive Murder Mysteries at the Sunset Restaurant sells out weeks in advance, with tickets sold already for December shows. April's show, Cradle To Grave, written by Do Or Die ensemble performer Charles Boyington, runs April 10th and 18th.

Free parking at The Sunset includes an across-the-road gravel strip, (hazardous to high heels- beware of puddles as you exit your vehicle), but fills around 7, so if you're late, you'll hunt longer for a space. Check-in is listed as 6:30, but many guests arrive earlier. Punctuality matters, as orders are taken at 6:45, dinner targeted for 7.

The Sunset is an established local favorite. It was a popular post-prom spot in the '80s, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It wasn't known for cutting edge avant garde fusion haute cuisine then, and isn't now. But if you like familiar favorites, nicely done, in generous portions, put Sunset on your go-to shortlist.

For Murder Mystery Mondays, Sunset offers five entree choices; I choose steak, planning my son's lunch tomorrow. My three tablemates choose orange roughy, chicken parm and crabcake meals. One has a quick chat with our server. Yes, she understands the additional charge; satisfied, the server brings soup, delicious, apparently, as my tablemate lifts her cup to drain it. Garden salad is levels above the usual iceberg bland group meal salad, and there's bread and butter in case we're impatient. Dinner arrives quickly, and we each rate our entree highly. Servers are tricky to access, so I don't get coffee with dessert, but my lovely $8 glass of merlot is delivered promptly. Our server warns that when the show begins at 8, she can't clear anything until serving dessert, during table-to-table character interaction. Two of us keep our dinners. When she returns, she brings boxes for carrying home leftovers.

Do Or Die has a reputation for off-color comedy and twist-filled storylines served interactively with a side of murder. If you like the form, you may have favorite shows, but it's a like one, like 'em all sort of thing. Like cats, really. If you don't like them, you won't like them. If you do, you mostly will.

Tonight's lethal scenario is a competition: the Annual World's Best Nanny In America contest. Featured are three radically different Nanny contestants, Ms. Doubtit, longtime host of the competition, and a brand new Corporate Sponsor representative. Everyone has an agenda, and eventually someone dies. One thing I like about this particular show is that it isn't obvious who will be killed. Often, audiences guess the victim quickly, simply because a character is so conspicuously despicable.

At midpoint, during the "designated interactive" (in quotes, because the whole show's interactive, to varying degrees) portion of the show, when characters move table to table, interacting directly with diners, I'm still not sure who'll die. I like them all. Sure, maybe they're shallowly sketched and a few have weak motivation, but they're fun and adorable in their quirky, idiosyncratic ways. The cast charms us- Anders Tighe is thoroughly the hipster, except friendly. The show's author, Charles Boyington, is handsome and dignified as Ms. Doubtit, John Kelso plays smooth and smarmy enthusiastically, Erin Tarpley is a sassy, tasty tart. Jose de la Mar takes charge efficiently as required, without being high-handed; show-stealer status goes to CJ Crowe as dour disciplinarian Ivanna Bitchslap.

The show's dialogue and pacing are snappy and character interactions resonate with the crowd, as evidenced by spontaneous outbreaks of applause at the conclusion of several scenes.There's much laughter, both individual and general. One-liners, insults and quick comebacks provide something funny for everyone.

The cast is unexpectedly fresh and handsy with some audience members- a cheek pinch here, a shoulder pat there, and a disturbingly erotic fondling of one man's bald head by Mr. Kelso- but nobody seems offended. In fact, the laughter is near uproarious levels most of the evening. I later learn that though two tablemates are new to murder mystery, many tonight are regulars, and are neither shocked nor displeased by overly-familiar contact. Clearly, these performers have a good sense of how much envelope-pushing is appropriate, and with whom to push.

Levels of interaction vary. Audience members make sassy remarks to the characters between - and sometimes during- the conflict or comedy- filled character interactions. Characters are sassy right back. During the 'designated interaction' time, guests question characters directly, using 'clue' prompts from their programmes. Guests at other tables share clues with one another. After a detective arrives to investigate the recent precipitous demise, audience members suggest suspects. During Cradle To Grave, center table guests accuse one of their own, a frequent occurrence. Jose de la Mar, investigating, quizzes the seated man. "Did you have a motive? Did you leave the room?" When the responses are both negative, de la Mar tells the accusers, "Yeaaah, we got nothin'. He's not a serious suspect." On the other hand, if a guest playfully claims a motive, he or she may be interrogated along with the cast. Questions for each of the suspects are generated by guests, vetted and repeated by the investigator, fielded by the 'hot seat' suspect, which may or may not provide clarity or lead to additional questions. After suspects are questioned, the investigator calls for a vote.

If voting is the only interactive moment a guest wants during the course of a show, that's perfectly acceptable. Audience members are like cats: some friendly, others more aloof. No one unwilling is put 'on the spot.' It may seem mysterious how these actors determine who wants involvement and who prefers to observe, but the ability to recognize each person's comfort zone is a skill, and the interactive actors of Do Or Die have plenty.

The show ends with revelation and confession, group exit, then bows. But wait; there's a birthday observance at the center table. Some must be regulars, as they sing along with Do Or Die's birthday dirge. Afterward, the newbies at my table immediately discuss attending upcoming shows. Guests from another group tell me this is their 6th murder mystery in a year. They come about every other month. "The girls are fantastic," (servers, presumably), "shows are funny, it's relaxing and just a great night out. We'd see every one if we could afford it." I ask about a favorite show, one they'd see a second time. They confer briefly.

"This one was fabulous. I laughed my ass off," says one. "I'd see it again," offers the other. "This is probably our favorite so far," the first one agrees. Ass-losing hilarity is high praise, and well deserved.

Shows are second and third Mondays of each month.

For tickets,

Sunset Restaurant,

625 Greenway, Glen Burnie, MD 21061 410-768-1417 for beer selections, directions and party group information.

May's show, Mum's The Word, is sold out at Sunset.

Future shows: A Foal And His Money, June; A Nancy Krew Mystery, July; Resort To Murder, August.

Another Mother's Day-themed show, Detective Mom, is slated for Thursday, May 18th at The Admiral Fell Inn in Historic Fells Point, according to Do Or Die's website, , though there's no mention of it on The Admiral Fell Inn's website. There's plenty of other information, but Murder Mystery is a secret, unless you scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on Blog to see February entries mentioning Do Or Die.

The Admiral Fell Inn

888 South Broadway, Baltimore, Maryland 21231 (410) 522-7380

Photo: Do Or Die Ensemble members Erin Tarpley and Jose de la Mar, by Amanda Gunther

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