First Person Singular: Dinner theater actor Dana Friend

Sunday, November 21, 2010; W05

We've got guys who've been dragged here by their wives, thinking, I don't want to go to "the theater." We get kids who wouldn't sit still for a play. But at mystery dinner theater, you can get a drink, have a good meal and then get to play along and try to figure out the motives of characters and a mystery that's happening right in front of, or sometimes right at, their table.

I came here in '91 on a date. Something just clicked, and I said to myself, "I could do this." I went up to the lady after the show and asked how I could get involved. The conversation went something like this: "Did you study acting in school?" "No." "Have you been in any shows?" "No." "Taken any classes?" "No." She folded her arms and said, "What makes you think you can do this?" And I just turned it on, listed all my attributes. I just kept talking, and, for some reason, she decided to give me a chance.

There's a big difference in being a funny guy and being entertaining. My real job -- I'm CFO of the D.C. Superior Court -- is about precision. But the thing is, I'm a risk-taker. Working in the government, dealing with finances, in the District, risk is not welcome. All this [acting] has let me be the spontaneous guy. On the flip side, I know for certain I would not have the full-time job I have without what has happened to my confidence here. I know I can get up, fall down, and it's going to be okay. I know I can lead others, because I get a whole room of people to play along with me. I'm no longer someone who waits for things to happen to him.

Coming here every weekend has done more for me than I've done for audiences. When my brother was dying of cancer, I'd spend the day with him at hospice and was still able to come here and make people laugh. When you're down and someone says, "I'm glad you're here. I know it's going to be a good show," there's no way that can't pick you up.

For 20 years, I've been here every Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. I've never been married. One lady I dated even got a part-time job here so she can hang with me. I'm ready for my next role. At 51, I'm ready to settle down and be a husband, a father. I finally know that I don't have to hide behind a bunch of zany characters.

-- Interview by Amanda Long

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