"It's all based on an idea I generated several years ago, and it found a home when I got involved with the Strongsville Historical Society," says producer James Mihaloew, a retired NASA research engineer. "I have a lot of interest in history and have been into wine for 45 years, so I thought it would be a good idea to put them together."
The Strongsville Community Theater Group supplies the actors; local writer John Lendzian, the story; and Mihaloew, the menu. Diners receive personal invitations in the form of Victorian calling cards and are announced as they arrive. They're also encouraged to dress in period garb. "It's a very elegant affair, based on Victorian beliefs and styles," Mihaloew says. "Everything is oriented around going back to a particular period."
But don't confuse this melodrama with one of those murder mysteries. First of all, there's no murder (unless you count the hundreds of titular animals that have been slaughtered and serve as the catalyst for the plot), and secondly, Mihaloew says, murder mysteries "aren't integrated into the dinner. We try to draw the audience in in various ways, and there's a lot of improvisation going on" among the half-dozen actors.
Mihaloew, a nationally certified wine judge, explains that French wine is being served because it was "much more prevalent in the 1800s." But a bit of literary license was taken with other aspects of the story. "We researched the history of Strongsville and took out significant events and people, and wrote the melodrama based on that history," Mihaloew says. "But it is embellished, and things are added for interest. Not everybody's history is vainglorious and melodramatic."
In addition to his other roles, Mihaloew also plays James the butler. "I sort of just keep everything going," he says modestly. "I announce the courses, I announce the wine, I announce the people. I have a couple little lines.
"But I'm really not much of an actor." -- Michael Gallucci