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After 28 years Mystery Cafe is hardly fresh, but still offers a filling meal

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In the movie Soapdish, Kevin Kline plays Jeffrey Anderson, a former TV star who’s reduced to doing Death of a Salesman at a cacophonous dinner theater. With patrons at the front tables loudly calling for servers, Anderson has to step offstage -- still in character as Willy Loman -- and mop a coffee spill.

Playwright Lee H. Adams makes no pretensions to being Arthur Miller, but a similar level of customer service is required of the cast in Let’s Kill the Boss! They run salads to tables, make sure the coffee carafes are filled, and improvise dialogue like, “Who had the vegetarian option?”

Let’s Kill the Boss! is a production of the Mystery Café, a company that’s been presenting comedy dinner theater in the Twin Cities since 1989. The “holiday edition” of Let’s Kill the Boss! (made seasonal by little more than a garish sweater and a post-show spin of “Christmas in Hollis”) is now playing at the Park Plaza Bloomington, one of the Mystery Café’s regular haunts.

Audience members are greeted as employees of “2M,” there for a team-building dinner. Everyone is nervously awaiting the arrival of Anthony Margate (Michael Lee), a character written as a caricature of a vain, casually cruel boss -- but who now comes off as a friendlier, more generous version of America’s president-elect. You almost miss Margate after a short blackout leaves him choked, cleavered, and stabbed.

Each of the five other characters has a potential motive to murder Margate. Larry (Brian Kelly, also the show’s director) could be jealous of the fact that his wife Lena (Erin Roberts) is openly trying to bed the boss, while Lena is stinging from Margate’s rejection. Harriet (Casey Haeg) has mysteriously buried several husbands, and Carlotta (Katherine Kupiecki) just wants a damn break room already. Security chief Gus (Dan Rooney) seems to be the least likely culprit, but there’s more to him than meets the eye.

All of this exposition comes between courses (a salad, an entree, and dessert). While you eat, you can use funny money for its explicitly-labeled purpose: bribing cast members for information. There’s a pretty clear tip about the culprit’s identity, though, via a word game in the program, and virtually everyone on Friday night seemed to have guessed correctly when the suppositions were tallied at the end of the night.

So much for the mystery… but there’s also comedy, which runs pretty much along the lines you’d expect. There are puns aplenty (“My father’s body was found in a rental car.” “Hertz?” “Yes, it still does.”), a couple of mildly amusing song-and-dance numbers, and joking asides that acknowledge it’s all a show.

Audience members are singled out for gentle ribbing (one is putatively dating the boss, another’s a lazy schmo), and there are scattered local and topical references. (“Where are you from?” “Stillwater.” “Sorry?” “Stillwater!” “Yeah, I heard you. I’m sorry.”)

Though Let’s Kill the Boss! is a competent show of its kind, there’s little by way of transcendent nuttiness. The interactive component provides opportunities for improvised humor, but nothing too raucous happened at table seven on Friday. After I spent 40 fake bucks trying to get a clue from Rooney, he said he had a question for me as well: “Has anyone ever said you look like Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?”

Meanwhile, Roberts was jumping up against the front wall, trying to fix a 2M banner that kept coming un-taped. Jeffrey Anderson would have empathized.