Mystery Dinners

During a long weekend house party at Wit’s End, Lady Agatha receives a ransom note from the notorious Cat Burglar (that is, someone who is stealing cats) that her precious Princess Sticky Wicket has been catnapped and is being held for £1 million. Once Lady Agatha determines that the cat is not just sleeping, she panics, runs around, drops things, shrieks, and eventually attempts to contact her late husband’s cousin, Detective Chief Superintendent Neville Chumply at Scotland Yard … but the phone line is down, due to the “storm of the century.” The roads are similarly useless, having been made impassable by the downing of trees planted during the reign of King Englebert the Warbler. So, though help cannot arrive, neither can the guests leave … and one of those guests is the Cat Burglar!

In early 2011, I produced “Catnapped” as the first Mystery Dinner Party for my friends. Through the years, I have developed characters and storylines for a dozen or so mysteries, including ones that took place at the Abbey of St. Grwst in England in 1107 (the theft of inks required for illuminating manuscripts), the Dry Tortugas in 1952 (piracy, espionage, and a hurricane), rafting down the Amazon in 2012 (collecting endangered butterflies for profit), the California gold fields in 1852 (political corruption and corporate malfeasance), and a corporate retreat center on the moon in 2112 (embezzlement). Only one play, “Over & Under,” was scripted. All the others required my friends to expand on the backstories and plot I provided to advance the story throughout the evening and identify the villain.

All the characters are women. All the crimes are non-violent. All my friends have amazing skills with costuming, dialogue, and imagination. And speaking of imagination … in addition to sorting out whodunit, all the players have a task to perform during the evening. For “Dixie Speedway” (Marietta Speedway, 1955), everyone had to tell a story about herself as a little girl that included these four elements: 1) your daddy, 2) Nehi Grape Soda, 3) a magnolia tree, and 4) a car. In “Loose Lips,” (Hoboken, NJ aircraft factory, 1943), they played charades. “Girl Band” (Hollywood Hills, 1978) required them to tell a story about their high school prom that included at least two of these elements: 1) your crush on the DJ, 2) how you made it home that night, 3) what you did for the first time that night, 4) demonstrate your hottest prom-night dance moves.

I have three plays written and ready to go when Covid releases its grip. “Vortices” takes place in 1986 in Sedona, Arizona. Someone is creating and selling fake crystal wands, thereby perverting the True Spirit of Wimmin’s Religion. Does the villain want to demonstrate that no one can tell the difference between a “real” crystal from the Druid’s traditional homeland in England and a “fake” from the Crystal Cave in Chihuahua, Mexico? Or, is she just in it for the money? “Burp” takes place at a Tupperware Party in 1958 in the Main Line suburb of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. One of the pampered women in attendance was — and maybe still is — a member of the Communist Party of the USA. A deep-undercover FBI agent is hunting her. For “White Mountain Express,” it’s a Friday night in September 2017 and six women are staying at the White Mountain Wellness Center, partaking in a program designed to improve their understanding of healthful eating, mindfulness, and movement. The resort, which can accommodate 40 guests, is struggling financially; it’s reputation battered by critical reviews. Someone is driving down the value of WMWC by posting false negative reviews in social media. Who? Why?

I love creating these stories and watching my friends embrace the silliness in becoming someone else for an evening. Here are a few photos from these thoroughly entertaining evenings.