PAO kills at virtual murder mystery dinner

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Kathy Maloney

The cast of “The Social Deathwork.”

There’s been a murder. 

At least, that’s what the cast and crew of Suffolk University’s Performing Arts Office latest dinner theatre, “The Social Deathwork,” portrayed for a fully remote audience on March 26 and 27. 

For the 20 year anniversary of the dinner theatre, PAO put on a show that incorporated humor, intrigue and technology. The all-female cast took the stage together, all donning face masks and protective shields, and gave the audience a break from the monotony of COVID-19 isolation. 

As the show began, the actors set the stage for a launch party. The technician, boss, chef and other characters revolved on and off the stage. Each character was given a background and connection to the event and more importantly, the boss, Elise. 

Keeping a typical dinner theatre structure, there were three scene breaks. Normally these breaks would be when courses were served, but for this show audience members were put into breakout rooms while cast members filtered in and out. 

The atmosphere in the breakout rooms was upbeat and fun, with Dean of Students Ann Coyne and Shigeo Iwamiya, director of Residence Life and Housing, chatting with students, staff and alumni in one of them.

“It’s amazing how they’re able to deal with all of these COVID restrictions,” Coyne said. 

The staff members lightly teased each other, talking about their meals and encouraging one another to eat on camera. Students quickly joined in, bridging the divide between students and staff. 

“This really feels like they’re going table to table, but I guess that’s the idea,” Coyne said. 

When the first breakout room ended, the real show began. 

The cast came back with a musical number written by cast member Annaliese Arnsten. The song and dance touched on pandemic life in an upbeat way. 

As the musical number ended, the characters “launched” a new platform that was the first “environmentally friendly hangout site.” The site, which is notably like Zoom, is an acronym that spells out WEDGIE, the company, BOOB. 

“WEDGIE will be the top pick for children,” Elise said.

As the launch continues, the lights flicker, screaming is heard and finally, Elise lays on the ground, dead. 

The next breakout room began then, leaving the audience to speculate who the murderer was. 

Was it Elise’s secret lover, Chef Olive? Perhaps her badly treated assistant, Norah? 

Those in the breakout rooms were able to interrogate the characters. Olive, the deceased party’s lover, asked how she could kill Elise. 

“With your cold hands,” Iwamiya exclaimed.

Two Suffolk parents of Madeline St. Laurent, who portrayed Olive, cast doubt on their daughter, saying “The chef is our daughter, you can pick her. She seems guilty.” 

The last act played out as Norah and Abby, the technicians, tried to figure out who the murderer was. Every single person in the room had a motive. From Paige, the General of Clean, to her own stepdaughter, anyone could be the murderer. 

The cast argued among themselves, pleading their own cases until the last breakout room commenced. They yelled “aha!” every time someone was accused, and the Zoom chat was a flurry of activity with the audience members gathering clues and chatting. 

The audience was provided with a link to guess who the murderer was and why they killed Elise. 

An hour and a half after the play began, the cast members read out the “Boneheads” who guessed wrong and the “Super Sleuth” that guessed correctly. The evidence was revealed through a video taken by a cast member.

Elise’s step-daughter was the murderer. The cast revealed she had taken matters into her own hands after realizing that Elise had been cheating on her mother with the chef.

The PAO hosts this dinner annually and has an upcoming Spring Fest that will be held virtually on April 23.

Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyFairchi14.