As the year draws to a close, I thought I'd write my (probably) final entry on my mystery theatre escapades, as these shows are where I rang in many a New Year. My first two blogs on the subject can be viewed here and here. For anyone new to the party, I once belonged to a dinner theatre company wherein we performed immersive mystery shows, involving the audience in the plot and doubling as the restaurant staff. As is the case with all theatre—especially theatre that involves improv, close proximity to the patrons, and booze—the unexpected was always lurking right around the corner like a salivating troll. Here are some of my fonder memories.


The Show Must Go On

Performers at the company needed to be prepared to jump into any role at any time. I can think of no better example than the night that Mike Jensen had to fill the high heels of one of the supporting female characters. We’d just hired a new actress who was scheduled to make her debut that night, and low and behold she didn’t show. We couldn’t even get her on the phone. We tried calling other actresses, but none were available. We did, however, have a surplus of male actors. So, at the eleventh hour, Mike put on the dress. Hell, if it was good enough for Shakespeare, it was good enough for us.

The character was an over-the-top prima donna to begin with, and the audience enjoyed Mike’s performance in drag. But for me, the best moment was when Mike and I both happened to be offstage, waiting for our next entrance, Mike flipping through the script and scanning the dialogue.  Suddenly, he got really excited.  He’d come to the line, “I’ve done a hell of a lot more than change my name to get to where I am.” 

“I know exactly how I’m going to say that!” he giddily exclaimed.

When the moment finally came, he dropped out of his falsetto voice, going down into a deep bass, and the line suddenly took on a whole other meaning.  The audience’s response was a gradual but ultimately very strong laugh as they slowly put two and two together. I will always be grateful that I was witness to the moment that Mike had that spark of inspiration.

As for the dumb-ass actress who baled on us, she wrote us a lengthy e-mail blaming her absence on her alcoholism and making the AA-mandated apology for having wronged us.  We laughed at her letter and then never used her again. 


What a Pretty Young Lad

Another example of last minute, gender-defying replacements would be Meredith Young’s turn as the show’s young male love interest.

Artist's conception.

I don’t recall what fiasco caused her to don the pants, though I seem to remember she was given a day or so to learn the part.  Dressed in men’s clothes and a wig, the diminutive actress looked like a twelve year old boy. Performing opposite the curvy Briona Daugherty, their relationship carried a strong undercurrent of either lesbianism or pedophilia (or both).

Their kiss at the end of the song “Tipsy Gypsy” was a sight to see. Munchkin Meredith leapt up into Briona’s arms, legs wrapped around her waist, and cried “Big kiss!” before planting one on Briona. It fell somewhere between adorable and disturbing. Whatever the end result, Meredith proved her worth by learning and performing the male role, unwaveringly and without complaint. I miss ya, girl.


A Classy Gentleman

Briona Daugherty and I were chatting with a male patron during the pre-show one night. Briona, playing an up-and-coming 1940s Broadway starlet, asked the gentleman if there was anything she could get for him. “How about a lap dance, honey?” was his charming response, as he pat his lap invitingly. There was only a short pause before she answered, “Hmm, I’m not sure what that is,” and, turning to me, she continued, “but Mr. March is our choreographer. Maybe he could do it and I could watch.” 

“Well, I’m not entirely sure what it is, myself,” I said as I positioned myself just astride the patron's knees.  “But if you would be kind enough to instruct me, I’d be happy to oblige.” The patron seemed less amused with himself at this point. “Naw, that’s alright,” he backpedalled.

“No, really,” I maintained, “it’s no trouble. I want to learn.”

“Naw, naw, nevermind” the man refused emphatically, waving his hand. 

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, yeah forget about it.”

I resigned with a shrug. “Alright.”

So, my hat off to Briona for turning that around so elegantly.


Micah Queens Out Over Tea

The dinner break at one particular venue was always a hassle. All the food had to be sent up by elevator to the second floor in metal cabinets, then remain in a closet-sized hallway to be distributed to the performers to bring out to the guests. Orders at this location were consistently wrong or missing, and this interval in the show often went agonizingly long. 

One particular evening, while trying to get everyone their food in a timely fashion, I was asked by a woman to bring her some hot tea. While I was happy to oblige, she apparently had little faith that I would remember her request, because she proceeded to let every performer who passed by her table know she wanted hot tea, which meant my fellow actors/servers kept harassing me with the redundant information, “There’s a woman at table one who wants a hot tea.”

These reminders became increasingly irksome as I searched high and low for the goddamn tea bags and little teapots. The kitchen staff had no idea where they were (why would they?). My fellow performers didn’t know where they were. I searched everywhere they ought to have been, and everywhere they ought NOT to have been. Frickin’ Indiana Jones found the Ark of the Covenant faster than I found the damned tea.

But find it I did! I arranged the pot, teabag, spoon, slice of lemon and little packets of honey on a saucer, and carried them out into the dining area to fill with hot water and then bring to the woman for whom they were meant. En route to the water, I ran into my buddy Lisa Enochs. “I got the tea for that lady!” I announced proudly.

“Oh,” said Lisa, “I just brought her some,” at which point I hurled the saucer and all tea-related paraphernalia into the air, exclaiming, “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” then turned on my heels and stormed back out of the dining room.


Later, I felt really bad to have had such a bizarre, shocking, and childish reaction in front of someone who A) was a friend of mine, and B) had done nothing wrong. I went to Lisa to apologize, at which point she told me that my little queen-out moment was the funniest fucking thing she’d ever seen. 

So, at least I made somebody laugh.


Do You Speak Romanian?

Unfailingly, if you do a foreign accent in one of these shows, you will have patrons try to speak to you in the corresponding language. Playing a Romanian gypsy in one production, I thought I was fairly safe.  How many people in this country actually speak Romanian? I thought.

The answer is a lot. 

During my first months with the company, I’d yet to learn the popular go-to answer of “I’m sorry, I’m trying to only speak English while I’m here,” and so went to unnecessary extremes to get out of such predicaments.  I remember one guy—American, no trace of an accent, and yet fluent in Romanian for some reason—trying for the length of the show to converse with me in my character’s native tongue.  I kept pretending I was busy, or couldn’t hear him over the sound of the live piano. “Let me go ask the piano player if he can play more softly, and I’ll be right back,” I told him. En route to the piano, I passed another actor, and discreetly begged her, “Engage me, engage me, engage me!” “Oh, Mr. March, I had a question for you. Please walk with me.”   

But the guy wouldn’t let up.  He kept speaking to me in Romanian every time I passed the table.  Even after the show, once we’d taken pictures and started cleaning up the restaurant, he was still after me. “I knew it! You don’t speak Romanian!” he taunted. Yes, ladies and gentleman, this super sleuth had proven that I was not actually the person who I pretended to be in the show.

I think what he really wanted was to ask me out, but was too shy.

Another time, I had the misfortune of speaking with a humorless woman who actually was Romanian.  By now, the first act was over, and it had been well established what my character’s nationality was. Nevertheless, as I spoke to her table during the dinner break, she inquired, “Where are you supposed to be from?”

“Romania,” I answered.  

“No,” she said, flatly, “you’re not,” and then just stared at my evilly.

I think my jaw hung open for about twenty minutes. I don’t even remember what I eventually said to her. All I know is I hope she got mauled by a bear.

It’s called suspension of disbelief, bitch!

Ironically, I did learn to say, “I only speak English in front of my customers,” in German when I assumed a different role in the same show, and guess what? Not one person tried to speak to me in German. God, why do you hate me so? Is it because my hair is prettier than your son’s?


Too Soon?

This story isn’t so much about the show as it is about something truly horrific that happened sort of peripherally to the company (and my own complete lack of sensitivity). There was an actor who worked with the company for a while who was generally considered by everyone to be a friendly, soft-spoken fellow. His name was Dan Wozniak. Go ahead and Google his name. You’ll find that he horribly murdered two people; the first was a friend of his, whom he shot in the back of the head in order to steal his bank card (the “friend” had recently come into some money). The second was the first victim’s girlfriend, whom Dan lured to her dead boyfriend’s apartment with a message from her boyfriend’s cell phone. He then proceeded to hack the bodies into pieces and leave a series of human geocaches all over Long Beach. THEN, so I’m told, he went to the wrap party for another show he’d just finished (“Nine,” I’ve been informed), and casually chatted with his fellow cast members while the dismembered body parts of his victims fed the conqueror worm. Seriously, Hannibal Lecter would be proud. 

I’m also Equity!

Now, I never actually met this guy. He left the company just as I was joining, and if we did happen to catch a fleeting glimpse of one another at one of my early rehearsals, we certainly took no note of each other. However, as I was driving to rehearsal for a new show one morning, I got a call from my sister informing me that this guy that most of the cast knew had been arrested for a double homicide. “I just wanted you to know what you’re walking into,” she warned me. Sure enough, the tone of that rehearsal was very surreal, awkward, and surprisingly quiet for a group of actors.

When we broke for lunch, the lot of us sat around a table, chewing our food in solemn silence. I decided that this period of respectful melancholy had gone on long enough, and so I commented, “Man. For a murder mystery company, we suck at detecting.”

The tension broke immediately with peals of incredulous but much needed laughter. And from there the floodgate of horrible jokes was opened amongst the cast.

I also do weddings.


Fear the Audience

During photos after the show one night, a couple asked us if we would meet them after strike for drinks. They kept telling us how special we had made their anniversary, and the wife insisted on buying a round for everybody. “Sure thing,” we all said. However, as we all prepared to leave after striking the set, it seemed that no one in the cast was serious about meeting up with the two. 

Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, I decided to go, and managed to talk my sister Laura into accompanying me.  We met up with the couple and wound up in a bar together at the Mission Inn (where the two had a room waiting for them upstairs). We were then bombarded with personal information of an explicit nature by the wife, while the husband waited with ever decreasing patience to go upstairs. Eventually, Laura and I called it a night, whereupon the now inebriated wife invited us to come upstairs with them, and forced us to look at pictures of her husband’s genitalia on her phone, as though this would entice us to accept.  Impressive though his features were, we kindly passed on the invitation and, with a sudden need to scrub our eyeballs, started for the parking lot.   

Suddenly, the wife became frighteningly protective of my younger sister, whom she’d adopted as her new best friend, and wouldn’t allow her to walk back to her car alone with me. “I don’t know you,” she told me. “I don’t know that you’re really her brother.  I love this girl.  If I ever thought you were going to do anything bad to her, I’d fucking kill you!” Fortunately for us, another woman in the bar that Psycho Wife had become beholden to had gone staggering off with a group of men, and our crazy admirer was suddenly torn between which woman to lend her protection to. Her husband was useless at this point, as he just wanted to go upstairs and get laid.  So, she was forced to go after her other new best friend, reluctantly taking my word for it that I was indeed Laura’s brother and had no intentions of raping her. The second she was gone, we ran for our cars. 

And that’s the night I learned never to go out with members of the audience.

Here’s to all the memories, good and bad!


This is my second post about the time I spent working at a murder mystery dinner theatre, and some of the amusing hijinks that made my time there memorable and the sometimes less-than-stellar working conditions worthwhile (the first one can be seen here). Prepare yourself for silliness!


A Family Company

Here’s what I’ll probably remember most about my stint with this company: at no other job have I had to work so hard to avoid making out with my sister. Laura, who is five years my junior, joined the company a year before I did, and it was she who invited me to come and audition. But instead of bringing us closer together, this company forced us to keep as far away from each other as possible. There wasn't a play we did where Laura and I weren't cast in roles that were romantically linked to each other, and while there were typically multiple actors assigned to each role, a fun little prank for the higher-ups was to schedule us for the same performances, and then watch as our eyes exploded and our brains tried to escape out our ears (true story). 

I can’t speak for Laura, but my biggest concern wasn’t so much that it would be gross to snog my own sister. What really concerned me was the possibility that I might kiss her and then find out that I liked it. Seriously, what do I do then?  I have a hard enough time picking up women without discovering that my mother’s daughter is the only one who does it for me.

Pictured: incest.

Ultimately, we always managed to switch roles with other actors or otherwise avoid any performances that might make Christmas a little more awkward, though the powers that be seemed hellbent on seeing us swap saliva.  Normally, I get really, really angry with actors who make demands about who they will and will not perform with—in fact, I think it’s one of the hackiest things an actor can do. And yet, I still refused to play in a romantic role opposite my own flesh and blood. I guess I’m the biggest hack of all.


Maintaining Verisimilitude

In one of our productions, after my final exit (in which I would, after confessing to all the murders, guzzle down poison and retreat offstage to a noisy but unseen demise), I’d usually sit in the bar and wait for the show to end.  During a private party one night, as I sat there, the party organizer came into the bar to close out his tab.  Immediately, I threw myself to the floor and laid there until he finally left. Where’s my Tony Award?


Old People Are Hilarious

Really, this is more Steve Biggs’s story than anyone else’s.

Steve Biggs. American hero.

But here it is from my point of view:

We had a large party of elderly patrons from a retirement home one evening. After they’d been seated for a bit, one of the gentlemen came to us and asked if he could have a table separate from the rest, as he found his group to be “too depressing.” We obliged him, and sat him at a small table that was unoccupied. Before the show began, the young woman chaperoning the group asked if we’d be sure to keep an eye on the loner, as he had a tendency to wander off. “If he leaves the restaurant,” she informed us, “he may not be able to find his way back.” Oh joy, we thought. 

Instead of wander way, the old man dozed off for most of the show, waking up just in time for Mr. Biggs’s dramatic speech at the climax of the show. Orienting himself to his surroundings, the gentlemen glanced over and noticed a whole table full of his fellow retirees. Hey, I know those people, he thought, and as Mr. Biggs monologued, the man shuffled over to the table of his peers and began to converse with one of them as though they hadn’t seen each other in ages.

“I haven’t seen you since the time we went to that dinner show!”

Finally, near the end of Biggs’s speech, the elderly gentleman wished his friend well and began to waddle back to his seat. Despite a few sideways glances at the octogenarian, Biggs plowed forward with his monologue. “How can I forgive that which is unforgivable?” he recited. “Unbridled ego, flagrant mediocrity…..people walking around during my speech!” Everyone laughed except the senile audience member, who remained oblivious to the performance going on around him—even when Mr. Biggs rushed past him to commit (fake) suicide offstage.  He may not have realized it, but for about a minute, that old geezer was the star of the show.


The Worst Scene Stealer Ever

I’ve worked with some pretty bad scene-stealers in my day, but possibly none as bad as a two foot tall blow-up sex doll that was given out as a prize amongst the patrons of a particularly lively private corporate party (seriously, when co-workers get together anyplace outside the office, especially when there's booze, they go fucking insane).

The “prize” was awarded during the dinner break, and when the show resumed, half the room’s attention was still on the provocative plastic midget, folks taking pictures with her and generally ignoring the live show taking place mere inches from them. I tried to assure the patrons that she would still be available for photos after the performance, but to no avail. I just couldn’t compete with the allure of a plastic doll that you can put your penis into.

Thanks, acting classes, for nothing.

Oh, Why Not?

We were often hired out to do “away shows,” private performances (usually for corporate groups) at locations outside our normal venues. As often as not, these shows were an exercise in futility, as they were often in gigantic rooms loaded with people who wanted to eat, drink, talk, and pay no attention to us. So we often had to make our own fun. 

I did one such show at the Dana Point Marriott, playing the role of fifth-rate crook Cairo. As I listened from offstage, Lisa Enochs (as femme fatale Sheila Wonderly) finished singing “Why Don’t You Do Right” and fellow performer Bob May announced, “I always liked the way you sing that song, Ms. Wonderly.” This was a minor mistake.  The line wasn’t meant to be said until after Sheila’s next song, and would cue the entrance of another actor, Chuck Abernathy, with a knife in his back.

I mentioned this to my fellow offstage actors, and we discussed possible solutions. It wasn’t a particularly difficult problem: Bob could just say the line again at the end of the correct song; another character could say it; or we could just skip the line and Chuck could enter right after the song. While this last suggestion was by far the easiest and probably the most sound, I requested that I be allowed to say the line. No one objected.

So, as Lisa sang her second number, I entered the large ballroom and perched myself on the end of a buffet table. When the song concluded, I crossed one leg over the other, leaned back like a pinup girl, and said, as seductively as I could in my squeaky Hungarian accent, “I always liked the way you sing that song, Ms. Wonderly,” and batted my eyes coquettishly. At this, Chuck came stumbling in and collapsed onto me, causing me to scream, “Get him off me! Get him off me!” 

Was any of this necessary? Absolutely not. But it’s these little deviations that help a person stay sane.

Lisa and I.

 Guns and Bread Rolls

It was realized part way through a performance of one show that the prop gun integral to the show's climax had not been set in the wine bucket for Beth Lindsey, the actress playing my wife, to pull on me. So, during dessert service, the stage manager tried “inconspicuously” to set it.  Right beside the wine bucket was a particularly obnoxious group. Earlier in the evening, they decided it would be hysterical to start playing dodge ball with the bread rolls, and even slam dunked one into my water pitcher as I was refilling their glasses. 

Well, somehow, the stage manager’s ninja-like skills were no match for the perceptive powers of these fun-loving patrons, and once she’d left, they peeked into the bucket and discovered our gun. Apparently, they thought that they were supposed to find it, and decided to continue their gut-busting bread roll running gag by replacing the gun for one. So, at the show’s climax, my panicked wife pulled a bread roll on me.  There was nothing false about the surprise on my face. 

She was supposed to shoot at me, missing but causing me to have a heart attack. Not entirely sure what to do, Beth merely threw the roll at me. This, somehow, still caused me to have a heart attack. 

After the show, the practical jokesters took pictures with us and laughed about the whole thing, thinking we’d found the gag as hilarious as they had. Needless to say, I hope they were all run over by a prison bus.


One more to come! (Probably)