The cast of Murder at the Five and Dime.
Photo – WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre.

Murder at the Five and Dime

Written by Teresa Wentzel

Directed by Craig Nolan Highley

Reviewed by Keith Waits.

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved. 

Pace and momentum are often points of discussion in a theatre review, but WhoDunnit shows always face a curious challenge on this score in that they are structured as a group of scenes broken up by the serving of three courses of a meal. So the inertia of a narrative building steam is far more difficult to accomplish.

The device of having actors mingle with the audience between scenes attempts to address the question, and in this new production, the “table walks” were among the most potent I have witnessed. The very first one, which occurs before the first scene while patrons are still getting situated, was especially impactful, with the character of Larry Thomason (Rick O’Daniel-Munger), a drunken boor, introducing a very noisy and intrusive presence that caused some in the room, for a moment, to mistake him for a real-life intrusion. The sum effect was tantamount to a nearly-improvised introductory scene.

This same emphatic energy found its way onto the stage, illustrating another answer to the question of fragmented momentum: a little bit of overplaying goes a long way. The murder mystery dinner theatre format benefits from playing things a little broadly, and director Craig Nolan Highley does a good job of pushing his cast just enough to engage the audience without undercutting the integrity of the material. It made for a lively and laugh-out-loud funny evening.

In this instance, the murder victim happens to be the drunken boor, and the suspects are all employees at his Five and Dime: the slatternly store manager involved in an affair with him, Moxie (Barb O’ Daniel-Munger); two young employees smitten with each other, Jimmy and Evelyn (Jeremy Guiterrez and Makayla Staudenheimer); the fastidious store accountant, “Perfect” Paxton (Robert Thompson); and the painfully awkward old-maid former store manager now demoted to sales clerk, Martha (Erica Goldsmith). A dedicated police detective also enters the scene to investigate (Alphaeus Green, Jr.).

Besides the raucous Mr. O’Daniel-Munger, two others in the tight ensemble deserve mention:  Mr. Thompson’s supercilious turn as Paxton; and Erica Goldsmith, effectively burying her usually charismatic presence as Martha. Each delivers comic gold revisiting sturdy sketch comedy stereotypes.

The one quibble is that the story supposedly takes place in the 1940s, yet the period never is really made manifest beyond a few costume choices and the fact that Five and Dimes are pretty much extinct in this day and age. In all honesty, I feel like the performance overcomes any serious objection on this score.

The meal was tasty, the laughs were plentiful, and the mystery was cleverly accomplished in Teresa Wentzel’s script – too clever for me, anyway, but then, I never solve these things. Maybe you will have better luck.

Editor’s Note: WhoDunnit roles are double-cast to accommodate their particular schedule, and some actors mentioned here may not be appearing when you attend.

Murder at the Five and Dime

Saturdays, May 11-June 22

Seating at 6:30 p.m. / Show starts at 7 p.m.

WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre
Performing at the Hyatt Downtown

320 West Jefferson Street

Louisville, KY 40202