Self-Improvement And The Mystery Dinner ShowJuly 6, 2016
By Jess Wangsness,
A few weeks ago, my husband bought tickets to one of those mystery dinner shows – you know, the ones that are designed to make you feel like you’ve suddenly turned up as an unexpected character in Clue. I was skeptical. Surely, the acting would be terrible, and the dinner would be like the green slime with raisins that John Cusack’s character endured in Better Off Dead.
Plus, things like this are an introvert’s worst nightmare. You mean you want me to talk to people I don’t know!? For two hours? I would rather stick my head in a garbage can.
But in the interest of self-improvement, I acted like I was really excited about the mystery dinner show. After all, I do all sorts of things in the name of self-improvement. I deliberately seek out tough hills in the Twin Towns so I can push myself up them as hard and as fast as possible on my bike — and I climb those hills over and over again, until I can hardly pedal back home. I make myself cook things — actual things in an actual oven or on an actual stove — even though I’m much more comfortable with microwaves. I try to bribe myself into driving my car like a sane person: If I can make it to work without tailgating any other cars, then I can buy a latte.
The day before the mystery dinner show, my husband informed me that I also had to dress like someone from the 1950s. And this led to an hour-and-a-half of taking everything out of my closet to see if I even own anything that vaguely resembles the twirly skirts and cardigans of the 1950s. I felt like I was going to cry. But then a mystery dress appeared! It had polka-dots and it was perfect for a mystery dinner set in the 1950s. I officially have no idea where it even came from, but I should frame it because it saved me from a meltdown of epic, volcanic proportions.
Disclaimer: I hate costumes. That confession might make me terribly un-fun. But it’s true. And I even had a Halloween party last year because, again, self-improvement. Some part of me must be determined to like costumes.
On Sunday evening, we drove to Stillwater, where we planned to stay in a B & B to celebrate our anniversary, and our directions led us to a brick bunker on the edge of town, with the gold initials KC reflecting the sun in blinding light on the side of the building. KC. Knights of Columbus. Great. I have to talk to strangers, in a costume, at a show put on by religious people. And the dinner is likely to be worse than my cooking.
Once we arrived, I made a beeline to the bar. A drink was just the manna I needed to survive the night. While I’m waiting for my gin and tonic, a classic 1950s greaser in a black leather jacket rolls up beside me, calling me doll, asking me to dance at the sock-hop, la la la. Oh boy, this is going to be a long night.
My husband and I are assigned a table, and then we head over to wait for the “Coach” to take our photo. Somehow, we look more like Bonnie and Clyde than 1950s high-school students.
We head back to our seats, introduce ourselves to our tablemates – and the show begins. In a nutshell, the story goes like this: Without warning, the class president suddenly keels over and dies and then chaos ensues as everyone tries to figure out who wielded the invisible murder weapon. Oh, and I should mention that someone at almost every table was assigned a role to play. Guess who got to play Nurse Q.T.? You bet. Yours truly. Just like everyone else playing a character, I was handed a booklet with some clues about her background and her secrets – and my tablemates were also in on those details. Apparently, Nurse Q.T. wanted to be a doctor, but she settled for school nurse instead; she’s dated the boring history teacher a few times, but he’s a real wet blanket, if you know what I mean. She’s not in love – but he definitely has a thing for her. That’s page one.
Then everyone got up, wandered around the room, and different people from different tables got the chance to ask the characters questions – in exchange for fake money, of course – while the characters also tried to pump each other for information they could share with their tablemates.
Then we get to turn to page two, and here’s where things got interesting. Nurse Q.T. made out a few times with the now-dead class president (insert every euphemism about skin crawling here), and she’d uncovered information in the principal’s office that someone in the school was an undercover CIA assassin. Does the CIA really hire assassins? Not sure. But all suspension of disbelief was decidedly out the window at this point.
Could the killer be Slick the greaser? Was Mr. Weisenheimer, the history teacher, the undercover CIA agent? What about the strange art teacher, Ivanna Live? Or the scorned football team captain whose girlfriend had a fling with the class president? More questions, more money, more angling for information, more consulting with tablemates on killers, clues and motives.
Page three. The kicker. Naturally, Nurse Q.T. was an undercover KGB agent assigned to hunt down and kill the undercover CIA agent, who turns out to be none other than Principal Smellding, because he’s killed a number of Russians. And when Ivanna Live suddenly ends up stabbed in the stomach with Slick the greaser’s knife, all hell breaks loose.
After all the back-and-forth regarding clues and information, we began final deliberations with our tablemates. Two main suspects emerged: Nurse Q.T. and Principal Smellding. After all, both characters are trained killers capable of dreaming up a plot in which planting a poisonous South American snake in someone’s car seems like a great way to murder someone on the down-low. But in a side conversation, my husband and I agreed that they were simply too obvious. It had to be someone else. Of course, it had to be Mr. Weisenheimer, the love-sick history teacher whose unrequited love for Nurse Q.T. drove him mad and who, as it happened, was the father of Slick the greaser, whose knife mysteriously ended up killing the art teacher. We presented our case to our tablemates – and they liked where we were going. We scrambled to record our reasoning for the murders, the motive, the connections. But we ran out of time and had to turn in our worksheet. Yes, just like grade school, we had a worksheet to fill out and hand in for grading.
It turned out we were right. Mr. Weisenheimer killed both the class president and the art teacher. The gent playing the history teacher had a goatee and was dressed in a black shirt and black pants – and his “costume” for his character included a black hat that made him look suspiciously like Walter White from Breaking Bad. So he just looked suspicious. But another table pinned him as the killer from the beginning and had the time to properly flesh out their case. Even though we didn’t win, we still walked away with the satisfaction of knowing our instincts at solving sock-hop murders was on point.
I also won the Best Actress award because I can imitate a bad Russian accent. While I was right about the terrible food – my tortellini was covered in some mysteriously thick white sauce that looked like glue – the evening was a blast. Our tablemates were lovely people – and everyone was friendly, even to introverts-turned-KGB like me.
I’ll just chalk that up to one more self-improvement project gone right.