By Liam Hofmeister, inside editor
A tiny black to-go box contained a cannoli from Mike’s Pastry just for Uncle Tony, the bride’s uncle.
He ate the cream-filled shell in one bite and moaned in pleasure. One minute later, Uncle Tony started hallucinating, could not breathe and keeled over on a table, dead.
“This is not the worst thing that could happen,” Guido Sarducci, the reverend for the wedding, said. “This is the equivalent of a truck of nitroglycerin tipping over on a bridge. We can save this.”
The reverend and Patsy Kline, the groom, approached the body to move it to the kitchen. As Juliette Romano, the bride, and her mother allayed the fears of the attendees, the men wheeled the body out with their crotches suggestively close to the victim’s head and derriere.
“We’ve got to go through the back door! Oh, he’s coming!” said Sarducci, leaving the audience in laughter.
Every Saturday night at Elephant and Castle restaurant, Mystery Café, a comedy-murder-mystery dinner theater group, puts on its production of “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?,” a performance mixing a cultural wedding and a heinous crime. While eating their dinners, audience members see the tragicomedy develop, and they assume a key role in the storytelling.
“The story is going to twist and turn according to the input that the audience gives,” Christian Galpin, the actor playing Uncle Tony and host for the night, said. “We infuse their spontaneity into the show and let the show take us where it goes.”
The first audience-based decision was the ethnic theme for the play. Every attendee voted when they entered the dining room, and this night’s theme was Italian. As soon as this was announced, the wedding party came running out with green, white and red flags, a Leaning Tower of Pisa poster and a new Italian cadence to their speech.
Juliette then described how she proposed to her husband-to-be Patsy as Uncle Tony came over and accosted the groom about being man enough for his niece.
“You think you’re good enough for my niece? You think you’re tough enough?” Uncle Tony said.
“I am honestly terrified,” Patsy said in a wimpy rebuttal.
Soon after, Juliette gave the box with the cannoli to Uncle Tony, and that was the end for him. As dinner was brought from the kitchen, a new character, police officer Agent Caruso, entered the scene.
“Our dearly departed is resting easily,” Caruso said, “in the freezer, on top of the cheesecake.”
Caruso went on to accuse nearly everyone in the room of being individually culpable in the crime. He didn’t know anyone’s real name, so when drawing his conclusions, he addressed audience members based on their celebrity look-alikes. According to Caruso’s accusations, Kanye West, George R.R. Martin and Kim Kardashian were all possible suspects.
“Your booty was dangerously close to the succumbed,” Caruso said in suspicion of the alleged Kardashian.
Finally, the motives of those at the wedding party were revealed. The mother believed Uncle Tony to have taken part in her husband’s death; the reverend was an ex-hitman trying to build a new life; Patsy had reason to fear for his life after Uncle Tony became aggressive and murdered Juliette’s first fiancé, Romeo. So who did it and how?
The audience had plenty of ideas of their own. The actors handed out accusation sheets for diners to fill out, and then shared their favorite, most ludicrous responses.
“This [guest] wrote it must have been the bartender, because he hates his job,” Caruso said. “How did any of you bring him into this? And this guy wrote it must have been the pianist, because he’s been killing it on the piano all night.”
One woman wrote her accusation near verbatim to the actual cause of Uncle Tony’s death. She was crowned Super Sleuth of the night and received applause from all the other dinner guests.
The crime was solved and, after a three-course meal around the action, diners were ready to leave. Galpin felt satisfied that the audience stayed involved for the full 3 hours.
“To pull them in and make an actual human interaction that moves with what they say makes for something unique,” Galpin said. “We were all here together for a bit, and we’ll always share that.”
Photo courtesy Shannon Lane Dupont, Mystery Café