Ah, November. November in the Valley of the Sun is the time when the devastating summer heat has receded to a balmy 75 degrees, flocks of snowbirds putter down the interstates at a breakneck pace of 35 mph, and a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of dinner and a murder. Murder-mystery dinner theater is a tradition in the Greater Phoenix metro area; not a terribly old tradition, certainly, but a tradition nonetheless.
The archetype for this form of entertainment is exemplified in Murder at Greystone Manor, one of the longer-running productions in the Valley. MGM is currently playing on Fridays and Saturdays at Pronto Ristorante, a lovely Italian restaurant near 40th Street and Campbell.
The concept to keep in mind, if you're planning on attending this type of show, is "interaction." Unlike TV, film or traditional theater, the performers are not kept at a distance by a CRT, screen or stage; they're right there, serving your soup, commenting on your clothes, and so on. This can be disconcerting if you're not expecting it. Interaction can take many forms, and a good cast can keep you smiling all evening. For instance, I arrived late to the restaurant. A cast member was very pleased to show me to my reserved seat. As I showed up in the middle of the introduction of the cast, I became the target of any number of good-natured, oh-he's-here-now-we-can-get-started jokes. From this example, we can derive several of the rules of Murder Mystery Etiquette:
Rule One: If You Can't Be Early, Be On Time. A good murder mystery has lots of preshow high jinks going on, and MGM is no exception. The cast sets the stage for the coming action, makes scenes, hams it up, and generally gets the audience in the mood for some fun.
Rule Two: Relax. You're here to have fun. Do so. Loosen up, get in the spirit, and be open to the possibility that you'll be asked to join in a dance contest, comfort the wife of the deceased, or something similar. This is live, interactive theater, the original virtual reality.
Rule Three: Plan Ahead. Murder at Greystone Manor is closing in on its 200th consecutive week of sold-out or near-sold-out shows. Murder-mystery dinner theater is popular, and you won't be able to trot right out to one on a moment's notice. Call the production company, find out when there are available seats, and design your future evening around this schedule.