Theater company serves up murder mysteries

By Ron Hellman

It was a dark and stormy night when suddenly gunshots rang out! If that sounds like a cliché start to a murder mystery, you’re right, only in this case the weather was real but the bullets were fake. The setting was Riccardo’s in Astoria, near the bridge that I still prefer to call the Triborough, and the host was The Killing Kompany.

Almost 20 years in existence, The Killing Kompany specializes in audience- participation comedy-mystery dinner theater in the New York area. Each show is different, created for one performance only, and audience members are part of the action. Not to worry, the selected guests don’t have to know any lines, just be willing to play along as murder suspects and witnesses. The heavy lifting is done by a few professional actors with Broadway, TV and film credits, who carry out the plot. Watch out, they may be seated at your table.

Jon Avner, a professional actor himself, as well as a writer and producer, leads the company and delivers a lot of the humor and double entendres along with his willing accomplices. That night at Riccardo’s, Avner emceed as a police officer in “Murder By Marriage,” while the pros sang and danced and supplied some key dialogue. When three suspects drew their pistols, Avner, in “True Grit” style, shot them all down, boasting that it was his “first three way.”

At the end of the evening, Avner paced the floor of the Tiffany Room, summing up the events of the mystery, inviting the audience to view the written evidence laid out on a table, and offering prizes to those who could figure out who did it and to those who gave the most memorable appearances on stage. I must admit that it remained a mystery to me, but the audience was really into it, several of whom seemed to be regular followers of the company.

And why not! For a modest price, you get a full course meal and entertainment, a chance to interact and solve a puzzle. The Killing Kompany does many mystery shows throughout the year, but dinner theater is just part of what it offers. It performs at all kinds of private events, from birthdays to fund-raisers to corporate affairs, at schools, churches and hotels, all with themes to suit the occasion.

The theme at Riccardo’s was linked to the news of the day, the Internal Revenue troubles, a crime in more ways than one. Unfortunately, the heavy rains that day kept some people at home, obviously those who didn’t know the show goes on no matter what. And if we can believe the dire predictions, we all have to get use to extreme weather.

The Killing Kompany has performed from coast-to-coast, but its home base, formerly in Forest Hills, is now in Nassau County. Give them a call at 1-800-SHOOT-EM or email at killingkompany@killingkompany.com, and don’t worry about the climate.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.