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Youmans: Serving up a murder mystery

November 24, 2011|By Heather Youmans
  • From left, John K. Wilson (as Joe), Bob May (as Reggie) and Michael Richardson (as Louis).
From left, John K. Wilson (as Joe), Bob May (as Reggie)…

In Gourmet Detective's "Get Cartier," a faux murder mystery takes places at the Balboa Inn in Newport Beach. The performers are the prime suspects, but it's the audience that serves up the dish of true entertainment.

"Get Cartier," which plays year-round, combines scripted comedy, musical performances, authentic costuming, and live piano underscoring, all within the setting of a full-service restaurant and interactive audience. Better yet, it's the audience member's job to solve the mystery.

Upon entering the dining room, audience members travel back in time.

The year is 1962. Four former comrades-in-arms and their loved ones gather to celebrate a birthday at the Hotel San Souci, on the French Riviera.

The guests, however, are unaware the party is a façade. Beneath the merry reunion of old friends lies a wicked scheme involving a priceless set of missing jewels, blackmail, unexpected romance, and — you guessed it — someone turns up dead. But, with the audience's keen eye, the murderer is sure to be caught by evening's end.

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Gourmet Detective has the dinner theater formula down. And that's no surprise, considering tat the theater company is now celebrating 22 years of business in Southern California. The company's success was evident in the full house and professionalism and ease of service when I showed up for one of the performances.

For those who don't know how dinner theater works, here's the scoop. A murder mystery performance wrought with audience participation is played out in three acts, while the characters serve up courses between each scene. This allows audience members to interact with characters, ask them questions and try to solve the mystery.

When I went, the system worked perfectly, until the supposedly dead Hank Akerman was spotted serving coffee.

At dessert, the audience filled out a card asking who they thought had committed the murder, how and why.

In the meantime, the room filled with anxious chatter as guests sat around their tables, eating and debating about the guilty party.

In the final act, guests' most interesting guesses were revealed. Also, guests get the chance to win a prize if they got the killer right. Those who guessed correctly had their card drawn out of box, and the winner became the "Super Sleuth."

Audience interaction was the show's most notable strength. Guests were engaged from pre-show to dessert. Interjections from the audience were the evening's highlight.

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