Setting the table, so to speak, for an entertaining evening of comedy, murder, and fine dining, Paul Vander Roest’s “The Mint Julep Murders,” staged by Act Out Mystery Theatre at The Reef Restaurant, serves up a fast paced, silly, and always amusing story that will not just whet your appetite for humor and good food but sate it as well.
The production stuffs every imaginable Southern reference into a tale of not just one but two murders. It blends storylines from TV (“Dallas”), movies (“Gone With the Wind”), and theatre (“A Streetcar Named Desire”) with such riffed-on characters as Kentucky Williams, Blanche “Du Bow,” and Mary Twain.
Set at the annual Mint Julep Jubilee hosted by Miss Charlotte O’Mara (Lara Starr Rigores), the fete turns homicidal with the poison-in-the-bourbon murder of Charlotte’s father, Big Daddy, and Harper Lee Mockingbird (Tory N. Thompson), a Yankee tax collector. Complicating the tragedy (Tragedy? It was more like slapstick with Thompson’s hilariously lingering dramatic pauses before he dies), Big Daddy was not only broke; he was in arrears with his taxes. Well, fiddle-dee-dee! With more suspects (Four) and motives (An alleged one billion dollars in inheritance) than you can shake a swizzle stick at, Detective J.R. Dewing (Vander Roest) begins his investigation. Who could it be, we panted over salad, the main course, and desert? Charlotte, so desperate to pay the taxes to preserve the Terre Haute plantation that she threw herself at Brett Rutler (played by a stalwart audience member)? How about Peter Butler the Butler (Carson Gilmore), because, well, he’s the Butler and they’re never above suspicion? Maybe it was the breezy Cook, Glow (Vander Roest), who not only had access to the bourbon in the pantry but also suddenly vanished? Could it be Louisiana cousin, Charmaine Holass (Thompson), who would do it just to spite Charlotte?
The standout, stand up cast carries us through the unraveling of the mystery in grand comic fashion. Rigores is delightfully hysterical as a Southern belle who, thrown on her heels, faces destitution and loss of prestige, not to mention murder charges. Her pitch perfect accent, her Daddy’s girl swagger, and her ability to improvise as cast-in-roles audience members wonderfully wander off script provide the stitching (and keeps us in stitches) of this extraordinary tapestry.
Thompson’s Charmaine is hilariously suspect as the eye-batting suspect who wields her (Yes, her) fan like the blades of a Black Hawk helicopter and her disdain for her cousin like a bazooka. Gilmore’s Butler is very funny, not just as a man with a shady past (In a prior life he was the notorious felon Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater), but as a Sphinx with that Addams Family Lurch stolidness that makes us think there’s more to him than British-accent and impeccable manners would suggest.
Performances are 7pm, Fri. & Sat, 1:30pm Sun. The show runs until Mar.6. Tickets are $49.95, which includes dinner and show. The Reef is located at 880 S. Harbor Dr. For more info call 961-9862 or visit www.actoutmystery.com.