“Once Upon a Murder,” written and directed by Paul Vander Roest for Act Out Mystery Theatre at the Reef Restaurant, skewers the residents of our bedtime stories – various princes, evil step-parents, witches, Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks, even Cinderella – and, in true Act Out Fashion – makes them outlandish and hilarious, the perfect accompaniment to a meal. The result is an entertaining mix of murder and spoof, C.S.I. and outlandish fun, told against the backdrop of the Long Beach skyline on a to-die-for summeresque winter evening. It’s interactive (audience participation) and clever (a deft inter-weaving of tall tales) and, with a nice three-course meal, an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
Set in the make-believe realm of Happy Ever After, Poor Mother Grimm (Phyllis M. Nofts) sets out to investigate the murder of her two sons, Slim and Jim. Enter detectives Uncle MacArthur (Vander Roast), a too-perfect caricature of Paul Lynde’s Uncle Arthur from Bewitched, and Splendora (Melinda Parker), an equally perfect rendition of Agnes Moorehead’s Endora. Add ten more dead bodies (Alas, poor Huntley – Vander Roest -, I knew thee well), the presence of a poison called Spastic, a slew of possible culprits, clues and red herrings, and you’ve got a story that takes us through a slapstick retelling of every fairy- and tall tale ever told.
Though it deals with – gasp! – murder, the script is taut, surreal, and light-hearted. Combining such characters as Goldie Rocks (Parker), Fairy Godmother (Robin Mattocks), Cinderfella (Michael Martinez), Snow Bright and Charmless (both Jill Yim), Greta Gabby (“I vant to be alone”) with characters from “I Love Lucy” and “Bewitched,” it comes across as the kind of dream you’d have after a large meal. Because it’s so well done, it’s also the kind of dream you wouldn’t have to write down to remember the next morning.
Much of the evening is spent getting to know the characters through the walk-on audience roles. This is where these murder mystery/dining productions thrive. Fred Hertz (wife of Ethel – Nofts), Little Red Robbing Hood, the Big Sad Wolf, Miss Piggy, Matilda Marbles, Princess Charmless (Cinderfella’s –Martinez – wife), Snooty, Eve the Evil Queen: they’re all there, proclaiming innocence, providing clues and insight, not to mention, great fun, as they participate in what amounts to a staged and catered script reading. The result is a spontaneous, combustible rout where we egg our hammy table partners on.
The pace is madcap and unpredictable, full of twists and turns, as audience members both enact their roles and try to figure out if they themselves are the guilty party. Meal courses get seamlessly served (Could the murderer ever be one of the food or drink servers?) as we catch our breath before the next round of sleuthing. Awards are given to The Star Detective and Best Performance by an audience member.
Performances are 7pm, Saturday. The show runs until March 29. Tickets are $49.95 per person plus sales tax and include dinner and show. The Reef Restaurant is located at 880 Harbor Scenic Drive Long Beach. For more information call (562) 961-9862 or visi www.actoutmystery.com.