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Performing Arts

Mystery meat

Charles Martin January 12th, 2011

Whodunit Dining Room, a mystery dinner theater, celebrates its 20th year of sleuthing by reviving a cast favorite, ‘Showdown at Madam Yahoo’s Saloon!’

Whodunit Dining Room
Starting Tuesday

The Whodunit Dining Room, a mystery dinner theater troupe, is not for passive audiences wanting to sit quietly in the darkness and admire a cast while trying to power through clinking glasses and scraping forks. The company appeals to more raucous crowds comfortable with characters breaking the fourth wall by sitting in empty seats, chatting up attendees and pulling the entire dining room into the play’s reality of improv-heavy comedy and “Murder, She Wrote” level sleuthing. The formula has kept Whodunit alive and kicking for 20 years. To celebrate, the cast favorite “Showdown at Madam Yahoo’s Saloon!” returns Tuesday at Spaghetti Warehouse, 101 E. Sheridan, and runs through March at various venues.

“Last time I played it, I was the mayor; before then was the sheriff,” said Whodunit veteran Paul Austin. “As I’ve aged, I’m no longer appropriate for the young character, so I’m playing progressively older characters.”

The traveling troupe brings murder mysteries to restaurants and non-traditional venues across the metro, featuring scripts penned by Midwest City native Earline Cottet, but with a generous degree of freedom granted to the actors.

“In a lot of plays, you don’t have a lot of choices with your character. The director already has a notion of what the character should be; you have the writer’s notion; and by the time it gets to the actor, you don’t have a lot of options left,” Austin said. “In Whodunit, you have a lot of options and it’s improvised, which gives me a lot of control over my character.”

Director Terri Myers said that the mysteries are all solvable, so as long as audience members pay attention to the details. Plus, the corpse and the killer change for each performance to retain surprises for returning attendees.

Myers, one of Whodunit’s original members, said several in the current cast have been performing for more than a decade, with fresh blood coming in every year. The sleuthing aspect is fun, she said, but it is the unique atmosphere and skill of the cast that keep audiences coming back.

“The most important thing in Whodunit is the connection, being able to connect with the audience on a one-on-one basis,” she said.

“It is also important to have the creativity and confidence to improv.”

Austin has worked in traditional theater, but said the longterm relationships formed within the Whodunit stable allows the company to remain successful year after year.

“This acting group is more of a family,” he said. “You have a shortterm family with most shows where you are together for 30 days to rehearse and then 30 days to put on a show, then everybody is gone doing other things,” he said. “This is closer to a company that is always together, and because we’ve worked together for so long, you can guess where the other people are going, and hopefully, make the comedy funnier.”

After Tuesday, Whodunit Dining Room will appear at a number of venues to perform “Showdown.” Those include Spaghetti Warehouse, 101 E. Sheridan, on Feb. 8 and March 8; Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, 1309 S. Agnew, on Jan. 14, Feb. 14 and March 18; and Ted’s Café Escondido, 6900 N. May, on Feb. 4 and March 4.

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