Just the place to get a taste of medieval life 'Make Merry Manor' dinner theater comes to Jessup

November 05, 1993|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

It's a tale of royalty, fools and lovesick minstrels, brought to life in the Jessup Community Association Hall.

Savage resident Lynda Bashoor calls her tiny kingdom "Make Merry Manor," a medieval dinner theater and comedy club. It opens tomorrow.

Unlike at most dinner theaters, however, the audience at this one plays along with the actors.

The audience dines, for instance, on a medieval meal the way those who lived during the Middle Ages did -- without forks, knives or spoons.

"We're going to take people back 800 years," Ms. Bashoor said.

"When they leave, I want them to say, 'Oh my God! I'm in the 20th century again. I don't want to go home.' "

Starting tomorrow, the inside and outside of the community hall, at 2920 Jessup Road, will be converted each Saturday into a medieval castle with a set created by John Guyton. Mr. Guyton's company, Gaffer's Scenic Studio, has constructed sets for the Baltimore City Opera.

As patrons arrive, flags will wave and torches will burn, knights, jugglers and mimes will mill about the grounds, ushering theater-goers into an evening-long medieval experience.

"It's like being a part of a dream," Mr. Guyton said.

Ms. Bashoor has long participated in programs that bring to life the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

For three years, the 33-year-old caterer and entertainment agent played a wench in the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville. That led her to start her own medieval catering service in Columbia a year and a half ago. She called it Medieval Affairs.

With demand for her services increasing -- including requests for acting and medieval-style food -- Ms. Bashoor decided to expand her company from catering to dinner theater.

Although Ms. Bashoor plans to incorporate other themes into her theater, she started with the medieval-Renaissance theme because it was a natural extension of her catering service and because of its popularity.

"The Renaissance era holds a lot of mystery and intrigue," she said.

About a year ago, Ms. Bashoor started making plans for the dinner theater, searching for suitable locations for a "castle" and for chefs to prepare the food.

She found the Jessup community hall to be a good site and the Howard County School of Technology's culinary arts department source for the chefs.

"This totally fits in with our curriculum," said John Johnson, a chef instructor at the public school, which teaches culinary arts and other subjects to students in grades nine through 12.

The school regularly caters for companies as part of an educational partnership that provides internships for the students. Food preparation for Make Merry Manor also will be part of the students' study of the history of food, Mr. Johnson said.

"We're all excited about it," he said. "Medieval dining is a feast, not just a dinner."

The six-course menu will include:

* An appetizer course of cranberry and blueberry muffins and pumpernickel bread.

* An apple and smoked Gouda cheese for the soup course.

* "Dragon tails" -- top round beef with a peanut marinate and scallions, all on skewers -- for the meat course.

* A cheese and fresh fruit course.

* A chicken and rice course, during which the diner tears apart the cooked chicken with bare hands.

* "Faun Tempere" -- pudding and strawberries on a crepe -- for dessert.

All of the food has been prepared with medieval and Renaissance utensils in mind -- that is to say, virtually none.

"I tried to create a way they could eat it all with their hands," Mr. Johnson said.

While the guests dine, Make Merry Manor's 30 actors play out original skits, in which guests may be asked to participate.

During a scene in which a lovesick minstrel is supposed to entertain the queen, for instance, the minstrel will woo women in the audience instead.

Many of the actors have worked in the past for Ms. Bashoor, who, in addition to providing catering services, also acts as an entertainment agent. The other actors are people she has met in various places around the Baltimore-Washington area.

Sammy Ross is one of those actors, a 70-year-old man who stands 3 feet 4 inches tall. He met Ms. Bashoor at the Irish Pizza Pub in Laurel, where he plays a leprechaun on a regular basis.

Mr. Ross said that, like most actors, he's always looking for more work.

"It's not hard doing a job," said Mr. Ross, who was in the movie "Warlords" with Charlton Heston. "It's hard getting one."

Other professionals in the company include Mark Jaster, a mime who studied with pantomime master Marcel Marceau.

The period music is performed by Bruce Casteel, a Howard Community College music professor.

"You've got professional decor, professional food and professional entertainers," said Mr. Guyton, the set designer. "That's what intrigued me about it. The audience is part of it. This is not your run-of-the-mill thing."

Performances take place each Saturday. Guests are asked to arrive by 6:45 p.m. for a performance and dinner that starts at 7:15 p.m and ends about 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $28.50 per person.

Reservations can be made by calling Make Merry Manor at (301) 604-0005.

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