The Affair of the Stjålne Mesterværk
Palette & Parlor, Chapel Hill
Closed August 31
Culinary impresario Jacob Boehm blew audiences away last August with his audacious production, “The Banquet,” his monthly series of Snap Pea Catering pop-up concept dinners. In a fusion never seen in this area, Boehm deftly threaded high cuisine throughout Akiva Fox’s immersive, atmospheric adaptation of Macbeth.
Still, during his theatrical follow-up The Affair of the Stjålne Mesterværk, which closed last weekend, I had to take points off for the hammy accent and nebulous character motivation of the dubious Russian anarchist.
It particularly pains me to do so, since I was playing him at the time.
Stjålne Mesterværk—Norwegian for “stolen masterwork”—gave an intriguing twist or three to the oft-benighted murder mystery dinner theater genre. In this variation, the fourteen patrons in each showing were provided a soupçon of continuity by Tennessee author Clay Thomas and then instructed to arrive, in character and costume, at the staging space: Palette & Parlor’s cool residential furniture and furnishings gallery in Chapel Hill’s Greenwood historic district.
Armed only with my own skeletal character notes and the names and brief backgrounds of two other characters, I felt ill-prepared to get—or give—a clue during the evening’s initial small talk/interrogations. These were conducted over cocktails and a quartet of hors d’oeuvres including a piquant flatbread with local heirloom tomato jam and savory lamb meatballs robed in pomegranate molasses.
But we gradually assembled the plot as the night continued, in part through the good offices of the head of house, Bloodsworth (actor Connor Kelleher), who provided envelopes with additional data on ourselves and others at strategic points. The Scandinavian theme in Palette & Parlor’s tasteful space well suited the initial mystery: the theft of an architect’s only drawings of a new accouterment (based on modernist Eileen Gray’s 1920s “Transat” lounge chair).
A murder was committed sometime between the chilled, buttermilk corn soup course and the pungent braised beef served with okra and Nardello peppers over stone-ground grits. The beef, the centerpiece of the meal, was served with playful savoir-faire by Boehm and sous chef Rachel Schmidt, both in character as the Nordic kitchen crew.
But our own amateur theatrics and reasonably challenging detective work, conducted from the inside of a mystery, teased out the answer to both crimes in Boehm’s lively, innovative and mischievous event, before criminally rich—and entirely just—desserts were served at evening’s end. Who knows what theatrical twist he’ll put us through next fall?
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