Dinner With Felons

If you are a fan of cold beer, pub food, and some good entertainment while eating it, you will definitely be a fan of Hip-Hop Musical Mysteries' production of A Weapon Most Unusual, playing at the Playwright Tavern and Restaurant. Customers order food before the performance and settle their bills after it. The play's start time varies slightly depending on whether someone has ordered a tossed salad or sirloin steak. Fortunately, the production is sensitive to these time constraints, and the performance is kept to a 45-minute run time. Although 45 minutes does not feel like enough time to tell a story, A Weapon Most Unusual manages to draw each second out, making them all count. A woman named Miriam Cook, played by Marri Wright, has murdered her husband, declaring, "I caught you in the act." In a courtroom scene played out on a large movie screen, it is revealed that Cook has rammed her husband with a car three times after discovering him in a secluded location kissing another woman. Was it pre-calculated or an act of temporary insanity? This is what the jury must decide.

The jury is a wonderfully chosen cast of actors with expressive, captivating faces that work well in extreme close-ups. However, it is important to note that none of these characters ever appears live onstage. Their scenes are restricted to previously filmed vignettes in a courthouse, where they rap at one another across the jury table.

One man raps, "I gave her the benefit of the doubt. She's guilty, there's no way out." A woman counters, "Hold on, big guy, not so fast. Maybe he drove her to kill his ass." In between stanzas, the men rap, "Stupid bitch," while the woman shake their heads and say, "Don't let no man treat you like that."

One cannot help but marvel at the perfect coordination as the jurors speak their dialogue in sync with the hip-hop song underscoring their words. The beat pushes its way into your subconscious, causing many a serious-faced patron to tap a foot while visibly swaying shoulders to the rhythm.

The courtroom drama unfolding before your table is also gripping. Each character is unique and engaging, especially the accused killer, played with hypnotizing animation by Wright. Although her performance is cartoonish in nature, her predicament is intriguing. Her facts are always unraveling into fiction, and though clearly responsible for her husband's death, she gives a convincing argument that he deserved his fate.

And, of course, with any good murder mystery, there is a plot twist. This one does not disappoint. There is no question that Cook is the killer, or that she must stand trial for her actions, but what is the weapon most unusual that the play's title refers to? Does it have any bearing on this story? You will not know until the end.

And not to worry, the revelations all make sense in retrospect. Those with a head for problem-solving will be able to gather clues and connect the dots throughout the course of the story. The challenge in doing so is preventing your analytical mind from being distracted by the rhyming dialogue and infectious hip-hop beats, which make it hard to focus on the plot points being revealed in the testimony and confessions.

Credit must be given to the writer and director, Jacqueline Hankins, for recognizing a need for dinner theater in this New York City pub and forging a path where there was none. The play and tavern are a perfect match; together they provide a fun, family-friendly atmosphere with good food, drinks, and a very compelling murder mystery that will have you discussing its twists and humming its melodies long after you've paid the bill.

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