There’s nothing like a well-staged murder to perk up a dinner date and aid the digestion. Especially if the dastardly deed is done outside the dining room, and you’re not exposed to any appetite-spoiling blood or fatal wounds.
The murder mystery that Mason and I witnessed recently at Boone Tavern was tastefully served between courses of salad, spoonbread, chicken and cake.
The Bluegrass Mystery Theatre of Lexington created a fictional reality TV show for a “Fantasy Wedding.”
Five characters revealed key clues about their lives, and we had to figure out who killed one of the contestants. We discussed our suspicions with our tablemates, then individually wrote down our suspected killer’s name and motive.
Only three people, out of 50, guessed right. Mason was one of them, and he won the prize which included a life-like, lethal-looking knife. Rubber, thankfully.
Now Mason had a definite advantage in figuring out whodunit. He based his dissertation on Raymond Chandler, author of Philip Marlowe, the hard-boiled detective from the 1930s-50s.
Mason’s also a fan of other mystery writers — from Agatha Christie to P. D. James. Plus, we’ve acted in a series of mystery nights and weekends ourselves.
Our, Mystery Ink, mixed and mingled more with the guests, staying in character the entire time. We had to answer their questions truthfully unless we were the villain, who could lie.
Our characters included a tap-dancing detective named Scar Trace and a psychic, Claire Voyant.
Some story lines were a little far-fetched, like an actor growing noticeably younger from discovering the Fountain of Youth. But they were still crowd pleasers.
Our plots were less scripted than a play and more improvisational like “winging it” when something unexpected happened. And it often did.
One actor decided to prove what a bad boy his character was by riding his motorcycle into Arlington House. We had not rehearsed that. Another actor got so caught up in the mystery that he confessed to the crime although he didn’t do it.
We even had an actor who was so sweet that people apologized for accusing him of murder, even when he was obviously guilty.
In one mystery, titled “Basketball Crazy,” Mason played a banker.
That was a hard sell considering we were performing for a Kentucky Banker’s convention.
In his role, Mason supported a college basketball program that was soliciting illegal contributions. Unbeknownst to us, former UK Coach, Joe B. Hall, then a banker himself, was among the guests.
Fortunately, coach Hall has a sense of humor. He even came over to meet Yuko, the rising star of our bogus team. She was barely five-feet tall, and being from Japan, knew little about the sport.
Yuko had been told that all she had to do was dress in a basketball uniform and bounce a ball occasionally — not talk strategy with a famous coach! But everyone was a good sport and played along.
In fact, that was part of the fun — reacting to whatever surprising twists and turns the plot took.
At one Elderhostel, participants gathered at Charlie Sweet’s house. Charlie and fellow EKU English professor Hal Blythe had crafted a mystery where a body would be found floating in the neighbor’s swimming pool. That was the right distance to be noticed, but far enough away that no one would attempt CPR on the victim.
Unfortunately, once all the guests were assembled, a storm swept through Richmond. The victim wasn’t willing to actually die for her art by climbing into the pool with lightning flashing all around.
So we improvised by having the victim sprawled across the hood of a car in the garage. In our haste, we picked a car that had just been driven and was hot to the touch.
In true thespian fashion, though, our victim laid still long enough to be convincing, and the mystery continued.
I was cast as the victim once.
They found me face down on the pool table at Arlington. But being “the body” means you have to hide the rest of the night and miss out on the action. You don’t reappear until the end when everything is revealed to the participants.
Many members of our original troupe have moved on to other things in other places.
We all had day jobs. Murder was just a hobby.
But I’m glad to know that you can still enjoy a good meal and mystery together.
Just be careful what you eat. In case it’s poisoned. And you’re the intended victim.