Sheila and I are getting ready to host another mystery dinner party. This one is set in the present day, in the Amazon River basin in Brazil. The crime this time – they are always non-violent – is butterfly poaching. Our excellent friends will be portraying American and Brazilian travel guides, a movie star, the star’s publicity director, a publishing tycoon and her secretary, and the World’s Oldest Living Lesbian Couple.
I started writing these dinner party plays in 2010. My original inspiration was a phrase that came to me during the twilight time of fading wakefulness: “Dee Hurley-Burtt Catches deVerm.” I knew I had to do something with that and in the morning I scratched out a plot and some characters for Catnapped!, the tale of the theft of Lady Agatha Charmondelay-FeatherstoneHaugh’s cat, Princess Sticky Wicket, during a country house party at Lady Agatha’s estate in Wapping-on-Bottom, Sussex, in 1932. I gave the characters stage directions, sketchy scripts, and back-stories and they took it from there.
That first evening was a great success, with much laughter and wit. I wrote more plays and we gave more parties. Over the past couple of years, our friends have identified a manuscript thief in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains in 1954; captured the spy in a Hoboken, NJ aircraft factory in 1943; figured out who was the embezzler at a corporate retreat on the moon in 2112; sorted through the red herrings to learn who really owned the railroad-right-of-way in a California gold mining camp in 1852; and deduced who was the communist spy and who was the CIA agent while shipwrecked in the Dry Tortugas in 1952. Embedded in each evening is an activity for the cast beyond solving the mystery – or, in the case of the villain – avoiding detection: they recite or sing, tell stories, or play charades and other games. For the upcoming play, Mariposa!, they will each tell a ghost story.
If you have any suggestions for future plots and locales, I’d love to hear them. If you are interested in putting on one of the plays with your friends, let me know that, too.