The following review is based on The Dinner Detective’s program on Saturday, October 28th at The Gardens at Los Robles Greens in Thousand Oaks, CA.
The Dinner Detective again demonstrated its staying power in the genre of mouthwatering murder mystery with an edge-of-your-seat outing expertly produced and directed by Marc Lessman at The Gardens at Los Robles Greens in Thousand Oaks, CA, where more than 60 attendees, many of whom understandably under suspicion, enjoyed a delectable three-course meal (and hors d’oeuvres!) amid a stirringly immersive scandal.
As dinner theatre becomes more of a rarity, The Dinner Detective, in turn, becomes more must-see, empowered by a cast and crew who are capable of equally satiating the belly and the mind. When visitors took their seats at one of eight assigned round tables, a scrumptious salad adorned with walnuts, blue cheese, green apples, and cherry tomatoes awaited them. Not to mention, jugs of water, coffee, iced tea, a cheese-bread basket, and a double-sided interrogation/answer form were neatly arrayed on the tablecloth as the evening’s affable host, Angela Dubnow, dressed in a doctor’s coat and curiously smudged makeup for Halloween, urgently reminded that everyone in the room — identifiable by a nametag with a pseudonym of their choice — was to be treated as a “little sus, as the kids say.”
As the guests found themselves motivated to tap into their incredulity of each other, Dubnow, who regularly guided the bystanders to access QR codes linked to significant clues on their phones following all three acts, brought the best out of the audience even if some were inclined not to participate. After all, in a murder mystery, the clues can’t be taken a stab at without intently reading, jotting down notes, and especially communicating with strangers. For the extroverted, it is an effortless task, and for the introverted, it’s the perfect excuse to mingle. More importantly, how else would the criminal parties be sussed out? Not to be overlooked is that, depending on how much alcohol (not included in the price of admission) is imbibed, the capacity to accurately cobble hints may vary from person to person.
As the compelling proceedings got underway with the sharp bellows of Jeffrey Fox, who passionately portrayed Kacey, the linchpin of the conundrum, there were smiles and laughter to be had juxtaposed against a grisly sight. A proper murder mystery, as epitomized here, not only intrigues but unfolds its narrative with a waggish piquancy. After the inciting incident, a duo of bumbling gumshoes amusingly named Thomas Guide and Kelly Blue Book, T.O.C.’s (Thousand Oaks City) most unexceptional, burst onto the scene with arms waving in the air, “badges blazing and hips thrusting.” For most of the night, Thomas comically struggled to navigate through the web of deceit and Kelly was hysterical in attempting to approximate the general vicinity of the suspect(s), although to no avail; however, all was well and good because their worth laid in the ability to entertain at will. From the guests’ perspective, many of whom were celebrating their birthdays with The Dinner Detective, no other objective, not even skilled sleuthing, could be deemed more of a priority than simply having a splendid occasion.
Actors John Abbott and Karen Baughn, who depicted the gloriously incompetent Thomas and Kelly, respectively, impressed as improvisational masters who could turn any audience member’s response to a question (e.g., vocation, hypothetical weapon of choice), no matter how banal, into a laugh-out-loud scene. Moreover, Abbott and Baughn’s combined charisma, zaniness, and predilection for puns yielded memorable moments, particularly when they would tease a witness who was ostensibly not in on the act. Still, the beauty of murder mysteries is that nobody is fully exonerated until the final reveal.
As the signs of foul play ramped up in tandem with appetites, which were greeted with the flavorful main courses — one of a vegetarian pasta dish, a tender chicken breast, or grilled salmon entrée (the latter two served with fluffy mashed potatoes and steamed veggies) — the premise’s disparate puzzle pieces became increasingly connected. By means of a personal email, a poem notable for a key redaction, bank statement, a newspaper article detailing a historic sports upset, a huge gambling debt, the transfer of funds, and an exposé, the culprit and motives for the opening murder of the “vic” (short for victim) began to be spelled out even though the “smoking gun” lingered behind.
The groups at each table were implored to make a list of their most suspicious persons, including even sketching the most distrustful person seated in their section, to get closer to the truth. As one onlooker willingly recreated the initial crime scene with gusto, and more interrogative witticisms were dished by Abbott’s Thomas and Baughn’s Kelly, some of the culpable partners in crime, who were hitherto hiding in plain sight, divulged themselves with a bloody bang as the enthralled observers noshed on their chocolate cakes.
Despite the layers of the perplexing onion of secrecy being peeled away, the perpetrator seemed to still be at large. Certainly, those who make the loudest noises aren’t necessarily the guiltiest, and any murder mystery worth its salt (in the wounds) will mystify and misdirect.
Minutes before the denouement, as guests were asked to fill out the answer form with who they believe did it and their rationale for doing so (the winner would receive a Dinner Detective gift bag), the mastermind, in breathtaking fashion, gave themselves away to the fanfare of a pleased audience who couldn’t be more stoked to have seen it, but more likely, not seen it coming. But it all made impeccable sense in the context of “access, motives, and stinky maneuvering.”
Last, but not least, many helpings of praise should be extended to actors Julie Weidmann, Jillian Bavar, and Anthony Colombo, whose identities will remain classified here, but who nonetheless blended themselves seamlessly with the crowd and yet, when the time was right, succeeded in spectacularly furthering the juicy plot.
Overall, as the murder-mystery extravaganza on October 28th in Thousand Oaks exemplified, The Dinner Detective has amassed the sterling reputation it has across the country for a reason: the dinner and vicariously charged drama continue to be top-notch, appealing to the locals it gratifies while proffering a standard of excellence that is universally recognized.
For more information The Dinner Detective in Thousand Oaks, including an upcoming show on Saturday, November 25th, visit thedinnerdetective.com/thousand-oaks. For details on other Dinner Detective events across the country, visit thedinnerdetective.com.