Ensemble member Jake Reber. Photos: Keith Waits
A Night with Poe: Murder Mystery Dinner
By Marcy Zeigler
Directed by Rachel Allen
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Is it theatre? A group of people sits together in a room, eat dinner, and witness a series of scenes that illustrate a murder investigation. The formula may sound familiar, but Company Outcast’s newest production gives it some fresh spin. A Night with Poe erases the line between audience and stage, carrying out an interactive narrative all over the room and engaging you in puzzles that lead to clues. Cryptograms, visual puzzles, codes, and combination locks are all a part of the mix.
It made for a fluid experience in which patrons found it impossible to remain at their tables. Solving the mystery required that you move around and examine set pieces, but even if you stayed somewhat removed, the freedom to get out of your seat made this more a party and less a traditional theatre experience.
By the time you read this, the run of the show will have ended, but you will find no spoilers here. The story follows two detectives (Bob Watters and Francesca Socolick) as they investigate a murder that we witness at the top of the show, and the trail of clues references Edgar Allan Poe every step of the way: Hop-Frog and the eight chained orangutans, C. Auguste Dupin, and the Cask of Amontillado, to cite just a few. And the participatory clues also lean into Poe motifs.
But the aesthetic is contemporary, and there were a large number of facilitators. In fact, as the evening unfolds, several audience members are revealed to be…Well, let’s just say that I was at a table with 3 couples who were all acquainted with one another, so I quickly came under suspicion as being either a part of the cast or possibly even the murderer.
Trying to find a fair and reasonable manner in which to gauge the performance is tricky. There is a good deal of meta going on here, a parade of self-referential engagement that cannot break a fourth wall it doesn’t acknowledge in the first place. The actors are arch, even camp in their playing, in part because the structure demands that they step out of character to play host. This is a play but also a party, with food, spirits, and chocolate.
Surreptitious audience plants are also an interesting way to realize Company Outcast’s mission of providing opportunities for performers who don’t fit the conventional casting wisdom. These individuals must “pass” as everyday people and not actors prepped and ready to take the stage, and that need is nicely served by the crew put into place, some of who don’t emerge fully as characters until well into the narrative. The relaxed atmosphere and blurred lines create a veneer of amateurism that serves as misdirection.
The loose, unorthodox set up also breaks down theatre etiquette. Because each table is given the same set of puzzles to solve, and some groups worked faster than others, there were several times that audience members were engrossed while scenes began to play out somewhere else in the room. Once a clue was solved, it was shared with all, but there was still a sense that many of us missed parts of the story.
So maybe things got a little too loose, but A Night with Poe was striving for something a little different, a freewheeling mash-up of literary, theatrical, and populist sensibilities, and perhaps targets an audience of similarly mixed-up tastes, one less disposed to live theatre.
Featuring: Ellie Archer, Michael Breeding, Teri Carlson, Sarah Mackell, Jake Reber, Francesca Socolick, Lance Wayne, Bob Watters, Hunter Wilson, & Marcy Zeigler.
A Night with Poe: Murder Mystery Dinner
February 14-17, 2019
8204 County Rd 311
Sellersburg, Indiana 47172
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.
2019 Arts-Louisville/Broadway World Theatre Award Sponsorship provided by