Cleaning out her “stuff,” our friend Skylar Hill-Jackson found a Murder Mystery game, “Pasta, Passion & Pistols,” she had purchased over a decade ago. So, she organized a Murder Mystery Dinner Party. Eight of us gathered at La Sperenza Restaurant in Little Italy, New York City, circa 1995, for an intimate dinner of family and friends after the murder of restaurant owner, Pepi Roni. He had been shot in the back four days before in the kitchen of his well-known bistro.
I played his widow, Mama Rosa. Other suspects at the table were his daughter, Angel and son, Marco, his wealthy twin brother, Rocco Scarfazzi, who had recently come from Italy, Rocco’s young fiancée, Tira Misu, and Rocco’s vineyard manager, a Frenchman named Bo Jalais, who was travelling with his boss for business and had fallen in love with Angel. Others present were Rosa’s best friend, Clair Voyant, and another family friend, Father Al Fredo. All wore dress appropriate to their character.
Between courses of a sumptuous Italian meal, we asked questions, challenged each other with information we had learned, all in an effort to identify the killer. I have heard of Murder Mystery nights many times, but never participated in one before and was curious to see how the game operated. A narrator on a cassette, played on an old boombox found in the basement, provided an introduction and a periodic summary of the progress of the game. Each player had a play book of lines distinctive to their character with questions and challenges we were to pose to each other. As we progressed through the playbook, new information about the characters and possible motives became apparent. Additional clues in the form of medical certificates, a timely parking ticket, and old letters appeared. At each turn, the plot became increasingly more convoluted. Someone was the killer, but who?
We were a group of retirees and on-the-verge-of-retiring boomers, playing an old game. What became clear to us all is that the game was designed for people younger than we are, better able to read material quickly and, more importantly, remember what they’d read. We missed clues and became too readily confused, needing to backtrack to fill in the necessary information. We found the organization of the game complex and difficult to follow. Was this the design of the game itself? Or does it reflect our increasingly and, surprisingly, slower and simpler cognitive condition? And, of course, completing the game took us much longer than we might have wanted. It was a late evening, long past our bedtime.
Some players assumed impressive accents to add to the verisimilitude of their characters. Others used their voices to show anger or exasperation, or props to fill out their role. No one, however, was prepared to actually act out the occasional demonstrations that the script called for. The script was as unfamiliar to my friend who organized the event as it was to the rest of us, and I guessed from the hesitation around the table that we didn’t quite know how to respond. Who would have guessed that, as we age, we become more inhibited? More reserved? Less willing to play act, even among friends?
For some reason, I had assumed that Mama Rosa and her departed husband were my actual age (or something close to it), and not a couple 20 years younger. When I dressed for the part, I put on the black attire I thought an Italian widow who had worked in the kitchen of the family restaurant for the last 25 years would wear. But I missed the key point… only 25 years. As the game progressed, I realized that Mama Rosa was still very much in her prime, probably her mid-50s, with all sorts of secret schemes up her sleeve which showed she had a lot of life left in her yet. Had I realized the truth about my character, my widow’s black attire would have been totally different.
I congratulate my friend, and the other participants, for a very interesting evening. Maybe we all learned a little more about ourselves than we had anticipated.