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Murder-for-Hire Troupe Brings Fatal Mischief to Party's Midst

December 05, 1991|KATHLEEN WILLIAMS

Party hosts determined to get their guests' attention might choose a mild form of homicide as an entertainment theme.

Murder mystery parties are the ultimate icebreaker.

They are staged by a troupe of actors who come into one's home and ruthlessly kill off one or more of their numbers during the evening. In the process, they leave a plethora of clues for guests, who are charged with unraveling the motive and solving the crime.

"Money, love and power is what everything sort of boils down to," said Mona Charles, originator and cast member of Die Laughing, a Brentwood-based company that is bumping off an increasing number of victims in Ventura County.

As the name suggests, Die Laughing puts a comedy twist on the theme of murder, and melodrama is encouraged.

"People stagger around and die in a hilarious fashion," said Charles, who added that her company is careful to have no violence in its mayhem. Knives don't protrude from victims and blood doesn't gush. Genteel methods of dispatch are favored, such as bludgeoning with a volume of Edgar Allan Poe.

"We use a lot of poison where people die into their food," Charles said.

Recurring devices used include casting multiple sets of twins, a heavy dose of puns, and copious ransom notes and wills, sometimes in the form of videos the audience follows keenly in hopes of discovering clues. ("Sometimes we do a whole video without any clues," Charles confided.)

The company's specialty is audience involvement, and guests are encouraged to choose roles that blend into the drama.

The entire script--except for the murders--is improvised on site.

"We break down barriers," Charles said. "It's amazing how gregarious people get."

The cast also adapts itself to a group's purpose. For Boots and Slippers, a Simi Valley square-dance club, one actor "sort of learned how" to call squares beforehand, and wove it into the drama.

The company's acting skills have been good enough to raise suspicions in real cops.

At a party at the Glen Tavern Inn in Santa Paula, an alert citizen saw them carrying out a dispatched victim and called the police, who burst onto the scene with drawn guns.

The cast quickly incorporated the officers into the plot, and guests thought the action was staged.

The police were not amused by this strategy. Hotel personnel were called in to convince them the killing was a spoof.

"We don't carry anybody outside anymore," Charles said.

But they do use some of their favorite characters again and again. Although each play is unique, classic roles may endure, such as Fleagore the Humpback; Amadeus Who, mind reader extraordinaire , and Star Nahmy, the titled wife of L.B. Minor, famous producer. And there is the infamous Pureena Duchow ("She's sort of a loser," Charles said.)

The host, who spends about $1,000 for a full cast of characters, is welcome to choose the setting and time period of the play.

Or Die Laughing will invent one, adding the appropriate costumes and dialogue.

They will also research and include in the plot corporate or family history and gossip, or any desired sub-theme.

According to Charles: "There's no limit to what we will do."

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