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.

Ghost Stories

Last night we hosted a mystery dinner party that featured ghost stories told by our guests. We had spooky, eerie stories from Massachusetts, New Orleans, Brazil, New Mexico, and Transylvania. As always at these parties, I am delighted and amazed at the ingenuity of my friends as they prepare their costumes and characters to fit the scant outlines I provide.

I decided to tell a story of my own last night. I’ve expanded it a bit and included it here under the title “Ann’s Sequins.”

I hope you enjoy it.

How I Met Hubert

I’ve mentioned that I develop mystery dinner parties for our friends. In the play “Catnapped!” each character had to tell a story about something that happened to her in her 20s. This is the the story told by the ditzy Lady Agatha during the dinner party.

My dear friend Ginny Blossom and I had finished our studies at Lady Dragomere’s Academy and were preparing for our debut into society. Mama had taken me up to London to begin assembling my wardrobe for the many, many social events of the season. We had just left a fitting at Mr. Worth’s salon, and were on our way to the Ritz for tea. Because it was just two blocks from the salon to the hotel, we decided to walk. OH, FATEFUL DECISION!

Mama was talking, as was her habit, constantly. Papa said she was the only person he ever met who could talk on the inhale. She was searching through her reticule for something, speaking all the while, and not watching where she was walking. We had stepped off the sidewalk and were crossing the avenue, and I will confess I was distracted by the memory of the beautiful gown I had just tried on, and FROM NOWHERE!  A HORSELESS CARRIAGE! In a heartbeat, I attempted to turn back, pulling Mama with me. BUT IT WAS TOO LATE!  THE MACHINE WAS UPON US!

Just as I was sure we would be crushed, I felt two strong (oh, so manly!) arms grasp me and Mama and lift us bodily from the CERTAINTY OF IMMINENT DEATH! When I regained my breath, and ascertained that Mama was safe … which I was assured she was by the steady flow of words issuing from her … I turned to thank our benefactor. MY DEAR! What a handsome man he was. Tall, strong, elegant. And with an intensity of expression that I later came to learn bespoke a certain cruelty.

He said, “My God, Girl, what were you thinking, stepping out in front of the Lagonda like that? Don’t you know that is one of the most powerful motorcars in the world? Are you and your mother both daft?”

I knew right then that this was the man I was fated to marry. No one had ever spoken to me in that way before, and I found it quite thrilling. Of course, I couldn’t let him know that.

I said, “How dare you speak to us in that impertinent manner! We were merely walking from Mr. Worth’s salon to the Ritz for tea when this horrid device bore down upon us. I’m sure we would have been quite fine without your ministrations. Certainly, the operator of the motorcar, as you call it, would have been able to rein it in.”

He said, “Idiot Child! Motorcars don’t have reins, and if I hadn’t been quick off the mark, you and your chatty mum would be lying beneath its wheels. You should be thanking me, not criticizing my manners. However, speaking of manners, allow me to introduce myself: Hubert Charmondelay-Featherstonehaugh at your service.”

With that, he bowed sharply and shallowly, more of a little dip than was quite proper, but I nevertheless appreciated the effort at propriety.

Next he said, “Please allow me to see you ladies safely to the Ritz.” I protested that we had already taken up enough of his time; no, he assured me, he was on his way to his club and would, in any event, be passing the Ritz.

He crooked first his left arm for Mama, and when she had taken it, bent his right arm toward me. I slipped my arm through his and we began strolling and conversing. Mama had finally wound down and was listening to Hubert and me with interest and a speculative glint in her eye. Hubert, she thought, might save Papa the cost of a very expensive debut season.

And so it came to be. By March, Hubert and I were engaged; and when I might have been attending the Prince’s Ball, I was instead dancing at my own wedding as Lady Agatha Charmondelay-Featherstonehaugh.