Good theater gives us the illusion that we are somewhere else, but really great entertainment starts by giving us dinner somewhere else-followed by a clever play with an enthusiastic, talented cast. Joseph Beck, who began his theatrical career with Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre as a teenager in 1994, has come back to direct this production of Michael Hollinger’s Red Herring after an education at Cornell and work in Hollywood. His wife, Leesa Beck, plays a pitch-perfect Maggie Pelletier, the hard-boiled-but soft-hearted-Boston detective who goes looking for a killer and a wayward husband and finds true love instead.
It’s tough for a lady detective in 1952, especially in Boston, where Maggie and her fiance, Frank (Brian Harwell), have been on the trail of some very sympathetic spies. Ben Chang gives James, the young scientist, a ludicrous sense of optimism as he tries to get engaged to Lynn McCarthy-Senator Joe McCarthy’s daughter-and give away the plans to the hydrogen bomb at the same time. Luisa Fasconi plays Lynn with a likeable flair-she’s a ditsy blonde from the Midwest full of interesting surprises. Bill Egan is Andrei, the hilariously philosophical Russian fisherman torn between his loyalty to his wife back in Russia and his mistress in America; Egan also plays three other characters. Lots of people do double- and triple-duty in this show; no one in the Circle Bar B cast gets much time to rest.
Behind all the mistaken identities, dead bodies, and secret plans hidden in Velveeta are a pair of masterminds: David and Susie Couch, the producers, who give a lively introduction to the evening, cracking jokes, saying hello, and acknowledging birthdays and anniversaries. Leslie Ann Story, who also plays the devious Mrs. Kravitz, designed the costumes with Susie Couch; Leesa Beck managed both the lead role and the lighting. The whole production comes together with a bang, several whimpers, a splash, a scream, a thermonuclear explosion, and a fish allergy. A red herring, as everyone knows, is a false pretext-something the detective chases for no good reason. You won’t need a red herring to lead you up the coast to the Circle Bar B. As Maggie might say, this here is the genuine article, so skip the red herring, and have the tri-tip instead. It’s delicious.