JOHN BERGER / JBERGER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Put your thinking caps on to solve the capers going on at Dave & Buster's in Ward Entertainment Center. The Murder Mystery Players, clockwise from left, Dusty Behner (Victoria Van De Voort), Stephan Mead (Vincent Van De Voort), Elitei Tatafu Jr. (Alouicious Snee), Sharry Shaoling (Mitzi O'Malley), Lisa Konove (Elizabeth Esterhazy) and Thomas Burling (Anthony Discenzo).
Can you believe the gangster's story? Dinner table sleuths must weigh the odds as Dave & Buster's Mystery Murder Theatre and director Andrew Meader challenge them to solve the murder of two-timing financial advisor Alouicious Snee in "Death Plays the Market."
Snee's recommendations led his clients to financial ruin. Nasty multi-millionaire Vincent Van de Voort is now a nasty ex-millionaire with only $13,000 to his name -- not nearly enough to keep his wife, Victoria, or his latest young mistress happy. The collapse of the Van de Voort fortune means that Victoria is facing a precipitous drop in her standard of living, and Victoria is as ruthless as her husband.
Snee's advice also left a local crime lord bankrupt. Snee is trying to explain himself to the others when sharply dressed Anthony "Tony D" Discenzo arrives and tells the beleaguered stock picker that "da boss" wants to "talk" with him about financial matters.
And so, four people have it in for Snee. Badda-boom badda-bing, he's dead. Elizabeth Esterhazy, a famed writer of mysteries and criminal studies, takes charge of the investigation and asks the audience to help identify the killer.
The script is a boilerplate mystery from the D&B headquarters. The twist is that the story takes place shortly after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the characters are comic stereotypes from the "Roaring Twenties."
Mystery Theatre veteran Thomas Burling (Tony D) dominates the action as he prowls the room holding a large cigar in one hand and a half-size tommy gun in the other. Burling plays the gangster as an engaging guy -- deadly, yes, but also inordinately proud of the fact that Esterhazy discussed him at length in one of her books on criminal behavior.
Sherry Shaoling (Mitzi O'Malley) displays a fine touch for understated irony as Vincent Van de Voort's ditzy soon-to-be-ex-mistress. Her character is straight from central casting -- think Marilyn Monroe playing "dumb blondes" in "Seven Year Itch" and "Some Like It Hot." Shaoling doesn't miss a trick playing a sexy oblivious air-head who explains at one point that she tries to avoid thinking because "Once you have a thought it's kinda hard to stop."
Stephen Mead (Vincent) and Dusty Behner (Victoria) are well matched as a venomous couple brought together by a mutual lust for wealth and held together by volatile mix of loathing and irresistible sexual attraction. Lust has rarely looked less appealing, albeit in a bizarro romantic way, then when these two suddenly jump on each other in the middle of an argument.
Lisa Konove (Elizabeth Esterhazy) adds another off-beat character as the quirky celebrity author. Elitei Tatafu Jr. (Snee), another Murder Mystery veteran, caps a solid comic performance as the hapless victim with a melodramatic death scene.
"Death Plays the Market" becomes fully interactive when the suspects make their way from table to table for one-on-one questioning. The rules are simple. The characters are not allowed to lie, and they are required to answer any question except any variation of the obvious two: "Are you the murderer" and "Is someone else the murderer?"
The odds of solving the case appear a bit better this time because there are apparently only three suspects instead of the usual four. The gangster, Discenzo, insisted when we interrogated him that "da boss" had ordered him to kidnap Snee, not kill him, and that there were other gangsters waiting outside the room to apprehend Snee if he tried to escape. Therefore, Discenzo said, he had no reason to kill Snee and would have been punished by his boss for doing so.
Whether there are three suspects or four, each table works as team. Each member of the winning team -- drawn from those who have correctly ID'd the killer and come closest to deducing the motive -- receives a $5 Dave & Buster's Power Card for helping bring the killer to justice.
There are several possible outcomes to the story. A mystery theater fan who caught the show in September could conceivably uncover a different killer next time.
Interactive dinner theater is the best compromise between "dinner" and conventional "theater." Those in the mood to participate in a broad comic murder mystery will find "Death Plays the Market" enjoyable and reasonably affordable early evening entertainment.
'Death Plays the Market'
Presented by Dave & Buster's Mystery Dinner Theatre:
» Where: Dave & Buster's, 1030 Auahi St.
» When: 7 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 29.
» Cost: $41.86 includes sit-down dinner, show, tax and tip; coffee and tea included, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages extra. Parking is free but limited.
» Reservations: 589-2215