"Excuse me waiter, is that a pistol under my prime rib?"
Diners at Dave and Buster's restaurant in Hollywood might ask just that while attending one of the establishment's Saturday murder-mystery dinners. During the show, members of the Murder Mystery Players get patrons to stash weapons for them and back up their alibis. Although the shows are fully scripted, characters are allowed to ask the audience for help, says director Randolph DelLago. During one show an audience member held a (prop) gun for an actor who didn't want his fingerprints on it. And one astute diner pointed out that a character had left poison "by" the sink, not "in" it, DelLago recalls.
"I've always been uncomfortable when plays break the proscenium wall," he claims. "But in this case, [actors] give the audience an opportunity to participate in the play as opposed to forcing it on them." And whether they take part or not, everyone tries to solve the crime.
A chance to play Sherlock Holmes is what makes the murder-mystery parties so popular in homes and restaurants throughout the United States and Europe. The Dave and Buster's brand of dinner-and-drama began 16 years ago in Dallas. At the time, playwright Jim Konopa and his Murder Mystery Players were performing primarily at parties and corporate events. But after booking the troupe at Dave and Buster's arcade-restaurant, the show was so popular it became a regular gig. Mock murders are now performed every Saturday night at all 14 Dave and Buster's locations.
The next production in Hollywood, A Neighborly Case of Murder, opens July 11. In the three-act play, businessman Duane Stokes goes to a murder-mystery theater with his wife, on whom he has been cheating with his secretary, Sheila. But Duane has just dumped Sheila, so when she calls to make reservations for her boss, she reserves another table for herself and Rusty, a disgruntled employee recently fired by Stokes. Sheila, Rusty, and others have plenty of reasons to want Stokes dead, which means that audiences have plenty of murder suspects from whom to choose.
It pays to pay attention while munching. Sleuths at each table pool clues to solve the murder, and winning groups receive Dave and Buster's gift certificates. Cheating, by the way, is impossible. The show's ending changes every week.
-- John Ferri
A Neighborly Case of Murder runs every Saturday through August 15 at Dave and Buster's, 3000 Oakwood Blvd., Hollywood. Showtime is 8 p.m. Cost is $40.20 per person; reservations are required. Call 954-923-5505.