Mur­der’s on menu for din­ner the­ater

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Stage - By Jon W. Sparks

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Would you like mur­der most foul with your pasta?

Phyl­lis Ap­pleby will be glad to serve it up in the form of the hu­mor­ous Death Du Jour Mys­tery Din­ner The­ater she’s been pre­sent­ing for sev­eral years.

The next one on the menu is “Mag­num Farce,” play­ing Thurs­day at Spaghetti Ware­house. On that fate­ful evening, the demise of an un­for­tu­nate vic­tim will be in­ves­ti­gated by Ap­pleby (as de­tec­tive Go­diva Bee) and her off­beat foren­sics-ex­pert part­ner Dr. Archibald Bee, played by Ed­ward Cooken­ham.

The re­sult is some­thing like a game of Clue di­rected by Boris and Natasha.

“Mys­tery lovers are very in­tense,” Ap­pleby says, “so it has to be a good crime and solv­able and make sense. I do a foren­sic theme, so I have an ac­tual crime scene,” she says, up­ping the fun quotient by hav­ing the au­di­ence play for clues.

Ap­pleby, who is pres­i­dent of the Mal­ice in Mem­phis Chap­ter of Sis­ters in Crime Mys­tery Writ­ers, got the no­tion go­ing when a restau­rant owner asked if she had any ideas to lure cus­tomers. They liked the idea of a mys­tery din­ner the­ater, so she got to work.

“The first one was rough, but every­one had fun and laughed hard,” she says. “They wanted to sign up for the next one and it grew from there.”

She has done it at sev­eral places around town in pub­lic per­for­mances and for cor­po­rate events. Spaghetti Ware­house has hosted it for some seven years.

The two main char­ac­ters “are more like a standup com­edy rou­tine,” Ap­pleby says. Her Go­diva Bee has a TV show like “Un­solved Mys­tery,” and brother Archibald as­sists be­cause “no one else will hire him be­cause he got a de­gree from a Rasta­far­ian uni­ver­sity and he’s a lu­natic.”

Al­though they don’t use other ac­tors, some of the au­di­ence can get in on the action as char­ac­ters, and the rest play along as de­tec­tives.

Ap­pleby says the din­ner and drama run about three hours, but the action goes on be­tween cour­ses, so there’s plenty of op­por­tu­nity to sa­vor as well as solve.

“Writ­ing a mys­tery is my first love, and I’ve done that for years,” Ap­pleby says. “I’ve got a good feel for peo­ple and want every­one to en­joy the evening — it’s like go­ing out with friends and play­ing a fun game.”

Cooken­ham, her part­ner in crime solv­ing, is a friend who she says has great comic tim­ing. “He and his wife, Leanne, have a clown min­istry. They even got mar­ried in clown suits,” Ap­pleby says.

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