Mystery, Suspense, and Laugh-Out-Loud Surprises in Store for Guests at JCC Dinner Theatre

Guests are sure to have a ball at the JCC’s fresh take on “dinner and a movie.” That’s because, beginning at 7 pm on February 1, the community is invited to the first ever JCC Spy Ball, a Mystery Dinner Theatre experience.

In SpyBalls!: Death of a Secret Agent, an original production being brought to the JCC by Cloak and Dagger Dinner Theatre, guests will become agents, double agents, moles, and spymasters at the “50th Annual International Spy Ball.”

At this all-inclusive, four-course kosher gourmet dinner and interactive theatre event, Cloak and Dagger actors will perform as double-agents—providing guests both their entertainment and their dinner as they double as waiters.

“This is our first time doing something like this for the JCC,” said Dr. Miriam Portman, who is chair of the JCC fundraising event. “For a Saturday night in the winter, we decided to do something fun and different. This is a great way to spend an evening with your friends and your community while supporting the JCC.”

Audience participation is encouraged and welcomed during the evening. Guests are invited to come in costume, dressed for the occasion of a “Spy Ball,” but costumes are not required, nor is participation, said Portman.

“Cloak and Dagger brings professional actors to play all the roles, and there will be audience interaction. Because this will be done at the JCC, it’s going to be even more fun because everyone is going to know each other. We’re all going to be a part of it. For the mystery, they’ll be incorporating elements well-known to the JCC community to bring the mystery even closer to home,” Portman added.

The witty and inventive James Bond parody was written and directed by Steve Emerson, who began working with Cloak and Dagger as an actor in 2009. Now directing his fourth production with the company, Emerson explained how the Cloak and Dagger dinner theatre experience will be unlike anything audiences have seen before.

“People have come up to me and said, ‘I didn’t expect it to be like that at all.’ They were laughing the whole time and were surprised because they were expecting only melodrama,” said Emerson.

For anyone familiar with dinner theatre, the genre typically consists of a whodunit mystery in which the audience is invited to participate in solving the crime. And since Cloak and Dagger opened in 1992, it has been following this over-the-top format in which actors typically play multiple roles with the “victims” returning in later scenes as other characters, maximizing the potential for comedy as well as expanding the number of roles for the actors to play.

In SpyBalls!, Emerson said, he’s taken the character flipping to the “illogical extreme,” with six actors portraying 16 characters. “You actually lose track of who’s who because there’s such a whirlwind of people changing costumes and coming back. It takes awhile to realize certain characters are the same actor,” said Emerson, which only adds to the parody.

But Cloak and Dagger provides more than melodrama and farce. “We do full-on theatre,” said Emerson, whose background is in Shakespearean theatre but who returned to dinner theatre for its populist nature.

“Rather than total melodrama, when I write a play, I try to make it seem like one, long Saturday Night Live sketch. We’re trying to refresh the genre a little bit to make it more accessible and more fun for a younger audience,” he explained.

“You are sure that you are at a play when you see our work,” said Emerson. The audience will be so caught up in the acting that solving the crime becomes secondary. “For me, the journey along the way is what is so funny.”

The play becomes an immersive experience because, as the performance unfolds, the actors-as-waiters are involved in solving the crime as they wait on patrons’ tables. “There’s a real, improvisational interaction between you and the waiters. You can ask them questions, or delve into their story line or alibi a little bit, to try to get more information out of them. So it’s a real one-on-one experience,” said Emerson.

JCC member Terri Barnett is on the planning committee. She’s looking forward to seeing Emerson’s work. “He seems so clever and involved. He was really sensitive to all of our needs as a Jewish community and wanting something really special. I liked his originality. He explained how different this would be from other mystery dinner theatres. It’s a very creative take on the old Mystery Dinner Theatre idea,” said Barnett.

Community member Ginna Rinkov, who is co-chair of the JCC New Albany Early Childhood Parent Committee, is also on the planning committee for the Mystery Dinner. “I’m just really excited to have a totally different type of event to go to. It’s something that appeals to so many different ages. It’s a great way to support the JCC while also having a great time with your friends,” said Rinkov.

Starting with a cocktail hour at 7 pm on February 1, guests will have the opportunity to play billiards as if in a James Bond movie. While mingling among friends and enjoying the cash bar and kosher appetizers, guests may also indulge in games like blackjack and roulette. Following the cocktail hour, at 8 pm guests will be seated for a full, four-course kosher dairy meal, complete with dessert, with the show taking place between courses. For the full, three-hour event, babysitting will be provided to guests for $5 per child.

Throughout the evening of comedy, food, and fun, guests will be playing the detective in the Schottenstein Auditorium. For the final act of the play, guests will have a chance to guess “whodunit” for the grand prize. But the whole community will win in this “theatre experience and gourmet dinner all rolled into one,” Terri Barnett added. “It’s the entire night’s entertainment in one location. What could be better than that?”

The event will take place at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus at 1125 College Avenue, Columbus, OH 43209. For tickets and more information, including sponsorship opportunities, contact Sheila Cline at scline@columbusjcc.org or 614-559-6225, or visit www.columbusjcc.org. All proceeds from the event will go to JCC programs and services.