Sylvia's Class Act Dinner Theatre
5115 NE Sandy Blvd, 288-6868
Through Sept 2

As the institution of American Theater tumbles into an abyss of public apathy, one can only wonder what caused this previously honorable form of entertainment to reach its current sorry state. Though drama schools have been teaching student actors the rudimentary basics of improvisation, suffering for their art, and giving unasked-for backrubs, they've neglected perhaps the most important skill: How to entertain.

Without this highly necessary skill, the average theatergoer is forced to endure endless productions of artsy-fartsy nonsense apparently designed to confuse the audience into thinking they've witnessed a production with depth and meaning. The result? A public forced to turn to Dawson's Creek for cultural edification.

It's time to give audiences an event. Something Dawson, Pacey, and Joey can never offer. Get "old school" on their ass with an actual evening of entertainment. Give them "dinner theater."

Though the concept of "dinner theater" may be hopelessly hackneyed, therein lies the attraction. Sylvia's Class Act Dinner Theater celebrates the same cheesy allure as classic Las Vegas casinos: history, glitz, and faded glory. Sylvia's features a classic Italian restaurant (complete with hanging grape fixtures and red-checkered tablecloths) on one side and a mini, multi-tabled theater on the other. Solid Italian fare of the requisite spaghetti and meatball/lasagna/calzone variety is served before the show, as well as alcoholic drinks (which can easily make the lowliest Junior College acting major seem like Laurence Olivier).

After being properly fattened and liquored up, the actors come onstage for the kill. Knowing full well their audience has been so romanced by the food and atmosphere, they'll be entertained by practically anything, they present the Clark Gesner musical based on the Charles Schulz comic strip, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Despite the fact that Gesner should be publicly executed for his awful attempts at music and lyric writing, as well as his idiotic assemblage of Charles Schulz' work, the actors are somehow able to overcome, making some nice chicken salad out of chicken shit.

Particularly effective are Kelly Hatfield as the loud-mouthed Lucy, and John Brown in the hard-to-hate-under-any-circumstances role of Snoopy, but the entire cast is more than adequate. The main problem (which is sometimes not a problem) is the surrealistic nature of the script, which is comprised mostly of quick, three-line jokes with a blackout. Some of the jokes are so nonsensical they'll leave you either sputtering with glee or sitting in stunned silence. However, almost every joke in the show lies in danger of being ruined by lack-a-daisical light cues. The blackout after each joke should serve as a visual rimshot, but since it takes anywhere from five to 10 seconds for the lights to fade, the humor has long left the building and dashed across the street to Taco Bell for a quick chili-cheese chalupa.

Regardless, for those searching for a night of old-school entertainment, one could certainly do worse than Sylvia's. And as for you artsy-fartsy theaters? Try enticing me with a big plate of spaghetti. And don't forget the cheese.