Limelight: Murder Most Fun
Even the clueless can have a good time trying to solve a whodunit at Sleuths dinner theater.
When it comes to murder mysteries, I’m clueless. Not literally, of course. There are clues everywhere in those diabolical little tales of skullduggery.
Smoking guns. Fingerprints. Shaky alibis.
My problem is that I somehow don’t see the clues. Or, at least, I don’t usually pick up on the right ones.
But even though I’m more of an Inspector Clouseau than a Sherlock Holmes, I’ve always enjoyed detective stories. So recently, I decided to take in a show at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows (sleuths.com), an I-Drive operation where a murder is committed—or, rather, a play about a murder is performed—every night.
There are about a dozen different murder mysteries to choose from there, including shows about everything from a radio station to a college reunion. I selected The Premiere, which concerns the opening night of a new film. Since I’m inescapably movie-centric, I figured I’d have a leg up with that one when it came to deducing whodunit.
One thing I really like about Sleuths is that—unlike at most theaters—the show seems to start the moment you’re inside the building. I entered through a bar-cum-gift shop, where an actor playing a veddy British butler named Jeffries was exclaiming, “Victims and suspects and clues: That’s what we are about here at Sleuths.”
Jeffries set the tone for the evening, which was appealingly droll and light-hearted. For me, part of the charm of Sleuths is that it definitely does not present the sort of “serious” theater that’s full of angst, intensity and profound philosophizing. (At another Sleuths production I saw, an Agatha Christie-style play called Lord Mansfield’s Fox Hunt Banquet, a male actor camped around as a female maid: I knew “she” was hiding something.)
Back at The Premiere, Jeffries escorted me and my fellow guests to our tables in the theater area, where some members of the talented, over-the-top cast wandered around chatting while we guests munched on our salads and waited for the formal play to start.
Then, as we watched the play ($53.95 for adults; $23.95 for kids 3-11; group rates available), we continued eating a full dinner in stages and got to know such amusingly broad characters as the flamboyant Hollywood bigwig, the mysterious psychic and the dumb blonde in a purple boa.
Without giving away too much, I can say that after one character ended up dead, all the others were suspects. The audience had fun trying to solve the mystery by directly interrogating those suspects and attempting to keep track of the evidence. And while I shouldn’t reveal the identity of the murderer, I suppose I must confess that, as usual, I failed to solve the mystery.
Most of the shows were written by Gary Redmond, a lifelong mystery fan who started writing these sorts of plays around 1985. He toured with mystery shows for five years, after which he founded Sleuths with his wife, Sandra.
“There’s a fear of death, and we want to lighten it up a little bit,” says Redmond. You might say that a trip to Sleuths is like playing a game of Clue come to life—even for us clueless Clouseaus.
Florida’s Starring Roles
For its 20th edition, Enzian Theater’s Florida Film Festival is putting the emphasis on Florida. And one way it’s doing that is by showing four “retro” films from the Sunshine State.
The most retro of these is The Yearling, the 1946 classic based on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ novel about a boy and his pet deer, and starring Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman and Claude Jarman Jr. There’s also River of Grass (1994), a story of crime and romance, set near the Everglades.
The 10-day festival begins April 8. At press time, the other two Florida retro titles were still being finalized. Contenders included Ruby in Paradise (1993), a resort-town mood piece starring Ashley Judd, and Miami Blues (1990), which features Alec Baldwin as an ex-con and Jennifer Jason Leigh as a hooker. (Gal Young ‘Un and Vernon, Florida were also possibilities.)
I asked Matthew Curtis, Enzian’s programming director, about Ernest Saves Christmas, the goofy 1988 comedy filmed in Orlando in which yours truly (no kidding) has a very small role as a teacher. “No, unfortunately, that did not make the cut,” he said, laughing.
I’m trying hard to be big about that.