Violence can be horrifying, screams of terror can be traumatic to the ears, and the unknown can be a terrifying thought. However, there is one context where those elements should be enjoyed – in the fantastically make-believe world of a good-old-fashioned murder mystery. Such carefully crafted suspense can unfold in the present, or even via the recreation of a glorious past, but nevertheless allow for complete immersion inside an engaging exploration of the scandalous and satisfyingly shocking.
Seduced by a salubrious three or four-course meal, one is naturally thrust to the front of the proceedings, becoming a quasi assistant to the examiner on site, who culls clues — one more interesting than the next. This is amidst an exciting narrative and live-action environment energized by skilled actors sporting the gift of improvisation. Furtive movements, sly smiles, and incessant inquisition grey the horizon, casting guilt on potentially all and innocence on none until proven beyond a reasonable doubt. An intoxicating cocktail of unpredictability sets in as chic attendees are led through a maze of the senses that includes laughter, paranoia, awe, and ultimately gratification upon witnessing the riveting reveal.
And, while there are many enigmatic forays with varying themes to be experienced, the following four murder-mystery opportunities around Southern California offer enthralling treachery at not only dining establishments, but on a moving boat and train.
The Murder Mystery Co. – Los Angeles (Rosa Mexicano restaurant at L.A. Live on 800 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015)
The following is based on the “Midnight at the Masquerade”-themed show. Cast is subject to change.
Being a wholly interactive experience, visitors are greeted and whisked away upon walking in, where they are asked to pose for delightfully fun, prop-accented photographs. After being seated at one of the many round tables in a special room at the Rosa Mexicano, one soon observes various individuals wearing colorful, macabre masks that underscore the occasion – the “Midnight Masquerade” ball for billionaires.
Highlighting the pervasive audience participation factor is the fact that there is one person at each table who is given props to wear and a character name to adopt – as well as an informational character binder – effectively becoming an impromptu cast member. The characters’ background stories are exclusive to only their corresponding groups, though the “bribe money” provided to everyone can also be used to buy information from individuals at other tables during two interrogation sessions.
Certainly, improvisation becomes a necessary tool when audience members exceed the number of contracted performers. Although the guests can often be very talented in their ad-hoc portrayals, it is the handful of cast personnel who skillfully drive and preside over the plot. Using the Grimprov Method, a technique endorsed by CEO Scott Cramton, who has starred in his fair share of shows, the actors, such as Amy Newman (detective), Amber Lawson (maid), and Tanner Herrmann (billionaire mogul Reginald Sawbucks), do an impressively adept job at working together and with the attendees to produce an outcome that rewards the table with the best deductive-reasoning skills, and the one that is “dead last place.”
Lastly, the dinner offered at the Murder Mystery Co.’s Los Angeles location is unique for being a Mexican fiesta of sorts. Beginning with chips and salsa, a choice of an entrée between Quesadilla de Rajas (flour tortilla with roasted peppers, cheese, and guacamole), Tinga de Res Tacos (beef brisket with slaw and pickled red onion), or Suizas Enchiladas (roasted chicken with tomatillo sauce, cilantro, onion and cheese), one has much to enjoy before finishing with chocolate or strawberry-sauce-dipped churros.
For more information, please visit losangelesmurdermysterydinner.com
The Dinner Detective – Long Beach (on board the Grand Romance Riverboat on 200 Aquarium Way, Dock #4, Long Beach, CA 90803)
Cast is subject to change.
Located on the middle deck of the Grand Romance Riverboat, the Dinner Detective has added an extra sensory element to the net murder-mystery experience – a three-hour cruise around the Long Beach harbor.
In addition to the sight of the water, the breeze, the Queen Mary in the near distance, and a wide spectrum of breathtaking views, is a thunderously funny murder mystery centered around an uproarious detective tandem. Yes, they can be feistily inappropriate at times, even bawdy, but they electrify like two comedians at the top of their game with an interplay not unlike other famous duos, including Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor, Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker, and even Walter Matthew & Jack Lemmon.
Garrett Kirby, and Gilbert Martinez, the latter of whom has been with the Dinner Detective since 2007, are two of the actors who play the slapstick, crime-solving duo, feeding expertly off the pseudonym-name-tag-wearing dinner guests. And while much of the murder-mystery exposition might be scripted, Kirby and Martinez infuse an astounding quick-wittedness into their routine that will have one guffawing endlessly. At certain points, the peculiar pair might cross-examine guests with a riotous line of questioning, or even ask some to entertainingly pretend they’re the perpetrator, as everyone is stricken with non-stop laughter. And quite notably through it all, Kirby and Martinez are never out of control, emitting a self-assuredness in their give-and-take that maximizes audience attention.
Making things more amusing for the attendees, whose appetites are being satiated with a four-course meal (with a choice of beef, chicken, or vegetarian for the entrée and cheesecake for dessert), are the non-costumed performers who sit amid the festivities, revealing themselves in either a hysteric or hysterical way, and thus adding new pieces of clues to be used to expose the identity of the culprit. When the droll denouement rolls around during the final act, it becomes apparent that much of the night’s success should also be ascribed to General Manager and Producer Marc Lessman, whose passion and hands-on involvement with the production will unquestionably ensure a memorable evening for the guests.
For more information, please visit thedinnerdetective.com/long-beach
Fillmore and Western Railway Murder Mystery (351 Santa Clara St, Fillmore, CA 93015)
The following is based on the “Night Train to Murder”-themed train ride. Cast is subject to change.
The Fillmore & Western Railway Company has tapped into many an individual’s film fantasy – which is to be embroiled in a captivating conflict on board a conductor-led train that charges full steam ahead from downtown Fillmore to Santa Paula and back again.
The area feels wondrous as if being transported to a much simpler time. The scenery is doubtlessly bedazzling with a panoramic spectacle of hillsides, lush trees, vineyards, rows of verdant crops, spacious fields, and a sunset that bewitchingly dims the external light, as passengers are carried through nightfall when the “Night Train to Murder” takes feverish hold. The setting is whimsical and the action is devilishly capricious, stemming from a wrap party for “Midnight to Murder,” a post-prohibition-era movie abounding with shady actors and an inquiring reporter.
Director Paula Maxwell has been putting on successful shows for the last 20 years on the locomotive, taking claim to a unique and can’t-miss form of entertainment. The cast members overcome all challenges with resounding fortitude – whether it’s balancing their time and collective acting wares between the two train cars, or performing seamlessly around the waitstaff who come and go down the same narrow path. Suffice it to say, the linear space makes for interesting visuals of not only the actors, but the patrons who are inevitably engaged and pulled into the story in charmingly improvisational fashion.
Indeed, the cast standouts are plentiful. Ken Duncan, who plays both the flamboyantly mischievous, mustachioed, and sanctimonious Director Caesar Deville, in addition to film backer Butch Baranski, is a performer who patently loves his job. Duncan takes great pleasure in his characterizations as well as his fascinating one-to-one exchanges with guests, who can’t help but be affected by his exuberance. Moreover, Neal Abramson embodies his character, reporter Dan Durran, with a gripping earnestness that reels in the audience; Cynthia Killion plays the distressed and oblivious actress, Gloria Swansong, with fabulous flair; and Director Paula Maxwell portrays Ginger Snap, the high-pitched and sanguine vendor who even harmonizes a number with Baranski (Duncan) toward the end.
The dinner begins with a fresh house salad, followed by one of four delectable entrées (prime rib, chicken cordon bleu, blackened pork chop, or vegetarian) prior to concluding with a creamy cheesecake. At last, upon disembarkment from the train platform, one can’t help but reflect on the endearing mixture of euphoric novelty just experienced.
For more information about future train-ride murder mysteries, please visit fwry-blog.com/murder-mystery-dinner-2016.html
For information on Director Paula Maxwell’s P. Maxwell Productions, please visit facebook.com/pmaxwellproductions
Gourmet Detective – Newport Beach (the Tee Room on 3100 Irvine Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92660)
The following is based on the “Darling, You Slay Me”-themed performance. Cast is subject to change.
Being a family-owned company since 1990, the Gourmet Detective has so far boasted nine rousing original murder-mystery productions in the vein of vintage whodunit thrillers. Customarily, before the fun and games get underway, attendees are seated in a bar lounge where they are affably accosted by the actors, who do a marvelous job of getting everyone into the spirit of adventure, including the astonishing anomalies that soon awaits would-be gumshoes.
Currently playing at the Tee Room in Newport Beach is “Darling, You Slay Me,” the premise of which is that guests are attending a Hollywood afterparty in 1928 following the (fictitious) musical-comedy premiere of “He Rang the Bell.” Unfortunately, things are not as they seem, prompting gasp-worthy fireworks from the mélange of characters — comprised of the film’s actors, producers, director, and a writer-turned-detective — seemingly every time Tweed the pianist (Tom Shelton) reads an excerpt of a review about the film.
Effortless in execution, for which much of the credit goes to Director Philip Gabriel, the interactive play’s cast is immensely skilled in emphasizing each other’s strengths. One of the more versatile performers is Kurtis Reed, who imbues each of his three characters (matinee idol Rafe Jester, restaurateur Fritz Lardi, and producer Ken Worthington) with not only distinct mannerisms, but a specific voice to match. Bob May, who plays Detective Anthony Badger, and has over 200 credits to his name, brings a very believable sense of authority to his role, speaking with commanding diction. He also infuses his character with a sensitive perceptiveness, coming across as wonderfully personable. In addition, Rachel Levy portrays the over-the-top veteran actress Desiree Augratin with impeccable comedic timing and presence, taking full advantage of her space and milieu to animate her character.
Other talented performers include Daniel Hunt, who plays the fantastically snivelling playwright Ira “Skippy” Crumbein; LeeAnne Rowe, who conveys understudy April June with an appropriate and relatable innocence; and finally, Dale Jones (Director Dick March), who exhibits sharp precision with a character that is very timing-dependent.
Not to mention, the actors also double as servers, curiously enough, channelling their charisma in ways beyond the widespread stage throughout the Tee Room, making fun small-talk as they pass out salads; entrée options ranging from baked salmon to chicken marsala to a mouth-watering New York steak; and, to conclude, a slice of lip-smacking cheesecake for dessert.
For more information, please visit gourmetdetective.com/newport