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New Year’s murder mystery served up at Lou La Bonte's

Put your detective skills to work to solve whodunit
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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The word on the street is that three people will be killed in Auburn on New Year’s Eve, and it will be up to the innocent bystanders in Lou La Bonte’s Restaurant to figure out who the killer is.

The Lincoln Way eatery will be the scene of the crime Dec. 31 when Lou La Bonte’s Dinner Theatre presents “The Speak-easy Murders,” an interactive murder mystery written and directed by David Atkinson.

Atkinson, a Carmichael resident, has been writing murder mysteries since 1989, and performing them at Lou La Bonte’s for just as long. While the New Year’s Eve mystery is a tradition at the restaurant, Atkinson and his crew will be back for repeat performances throughout January and February 2012.

“The Speakeasy Murders” is set in the Prohibition era, and Atkinson said finding a theme for the show was a breeze – he based it on actual events.

“This particular mystery was a lot of fun for me to write, because all I had to do was start looking at research about Prohibition and some of the characters who were the main players in it, and it pretty much wrote itself in a lot of ways.”

The cast of five will portray real-life characters from Prohibition, including George “Dutch” Remus, a Cincinnati man who was known as the “king of Prohibition.” A pharmacist and lawyer by trade, Remus bought medicinal alcohol as Prohibition began, stored it in warehouses, hired people to steal it from him, and then sold it illegally.
Remus’ second wife, Imogene, is also a character in “The Speakeasy Murders.” While Remus was serving a prison sentence for tax evasion, Imogene had an affair with Franklin L. Dodge Jr., a federal agent. The murder mystery is set in a speakeasy owned by Texas Guinan, and takes place during Remus’ welcome-home party.

To see photos from the cast dress rehearsal, click here.

“There’s a murder at the beginning, attempted murder in the middle and another murder at the very end,” Atkinson said.

The audience is tasked with figuring out the culprit, and they do so by being attentive, asking questions of the actors and figuring out the clues provided to them. While murder mysteries generally involve lots of audience interaction, the cast will not make anybody participate who doesn’t want to – there’s plenty of fun to be had just watching what goes on.

Restaurant owner Judi La Bonte said dinner theater is always a popular attraction, not only because the acting is good but also because they often include music. “The Speakeasy Murders” will feature the cast singing songs from the 1920s, and one actress, Lyra Dominguez, is a trained opera singer.

La Bonte added that over the years she and members of the staff have also gotten in on the fun.

“Usually every show there’s one person on the staff who’s the villain somewhere,” she laughed. “He comes marching through and shoots somebody.”

The only character not based on a real person is Poopsie McGee, played by Auburn resident Melyssa Descovich. A graduate of Placer High School, Descovich said she did several stage plays there, but as an adult has focused more on improvisational acting. She’s a member of the League of Proper Villains and Sacramento Steampunk Society, which “invades” events like Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas by appearing in period costume with “steampunk” flair, adding elements that people from the past might have considered futuristic, like goggles, gears and timepieces.

Descovich said she auditioned for “The Speakeasy Murders” because seeing the advertisement for the show brought back a childhood memory.

“When I was 8 years old, I drove past Lou La Bonte’s with my mom, and she said something to me about how they did murder mystery dinners there,” Descovich said. “I remember thinking, at 8 years old, how I would love to do something like that.”

Atkinson describes Poopsie McGee as an “air-headed bimbo flapper,” and Descovich said that’s what makes her fun to play.

“I have the best character,” she said. “She’s so saucy, and she’s a dingbat too. What a great mix.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com.

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“The Speakeasy Murders”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31; Jan. 13, 20 and 27; and Feb. 3 and 10

Where: Lou La Bonte’s Restaurant banquet room, 13460 Lincoln Way, Auburn

Cost: $39.95 for dinner and show; gift certificates available

Reservations: (530) 885-9193