The lobby of Converse Hall looks different tonight. The area near the elevator has been roped off as an “archeological dig site.” Fliers on the walls and columns feature slogans such as Aliens are People, Too and Human? Alien? Questioning? Fine by me. Students are eating pizza and mingling with, among others, a sad clown in a rainbow wig. I’m not yet sure what all this means. What I do know is that Converse will soon become the scene of a deadly crime.
I’m at the annual Mr. Gad’s House of Improv murder-mystery show. This year, it’s titled “Till Death Do Us Part,” and it combines the fun of homicide with the horrors of searching for true love. The audience has been invited to participate in an evening of speed-dating with the characters, each played by a member of the troupe. The host characters, a blue-collar Southern couple named Clevus and Harley Busch (Ben Schweizer ’09 and Bree Barton ’07), are founders of the matchmaking Website eCompromise.com.
As I wander around the lobby and watch everyone schmooze, I feel shy and out-of-place, just as I would in a real social situation. And then I wonder: Is this a “real social situation”? I suppose this uncertainty is what Gad’s intends: to blur the line between reality and fiction, improv and script, audience and performers. I go with it. I begin thinking of myself as a character—a reporter, covering the date night for the local news.
I strike up a conversation with a tall, long-haired, bearded fellow in raggedy clothes—none other than Sasquatch (Andy Tew ’07). Through his halting, broken English, I notice his Canadian accent; he tells me he’s from the wilderness of Sasquatchewan (and the humans always get the name of the place wrong). Sasquatch hosts a radio program about Scientology. He has dated beavers, and he was once in love with a dog, but he’s ready to try courting a human.
“Have you met anyone special tonight?” I ask.
He grins. “I’ve met you.”
I blush and marvel at the fact that my job actually requires me to flirt with mythical woodland creatures.
Which one of these people is about to die? Which one belongs in prison? And which one would you like to take out to dinner?
Soon, Clevus and Harley call everyone into Cole Assembly Room (better known as the "Red Room" or, tonight, "redruM"). They show video clips that the “Premium Members” of eCompromise.com have made to introduce themselves to potential mates. In addition to Sasquatch, the Premium Members include:
- Nixie Van Wheelen (Sarah Sligar ’10), the second-most-famous newspaper crossword puzzle creator in the Northeast. Heaven help you if you mention the most famous one, Will Shortz, in her presence.
- Darius “Funnyface” Johnson (Floyd Oliver ’11), a down-on-his-luck clown and writer. His stories have been rejected by Nixie’s newspaper, and his previous girlfriend left him for a mime.
- Jean (Adam Alfandary ’10), a French jazz musician.
- Gwen Pivold (Bessie Young ’11), an aging socialite who’s bitterly divorced from Jean.
- Bobby Richter (Justin Redfearn ’09), an archeologist in search of the lost city of Atlantis. He enjoys “contemporary fossilization”—the killing and burying of animals so that their fossils can be discovered soon after.
- Clack (Matt Johnson ’09), a rapper who takes his name from the click-clack sound a gun makes when it’s cocked.
- Damien (Adam Barton ’11), the Antichrist. He’s a preppy young demon, educated at Williams College.
- Art Zorbax (Brian Lewis ’08), who believes he was abducted by aliens and returned to Earth to form Project AHAB (“Alien Helper and Brother”). He’s in possession of a notebook full of alien writings, and he’s been distributing a fact sheet that points out the rampant misrepresentations of extraterrestrials in the media.
- Casteel Stephanie (Zach Cherry ’10), a shy lad raised in complete isolation by his scientist parents on a remote island. He remains in constant contact with his mother via a wireless headset. The highest compliment he can think to bestow upon a date is, “You remind me of my mom.”
- Polar Reagan-Thatcher (Dan Cluchey ’08), lovechild of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and adventurous host of the T.V. survival series Person vs. Wilderness. His dog used to accompany him on his travels, but no longer.
After the video introductions, we head back out to the lobby for another round of speed-dates, so the Premium Members can officially choose dates to take out on the town. They mostly choose one another. When we return to the Red Room, they are blindfolded and handcuffed together in couples, as per the rules of date night.
But wait! Someone is missing… Jean takes off his blindfold to find that his date, Nixie Van Wheelen, is gone—only her severed hand remains in the cuff.
Suddenly, every character is a murder suspect.
Clevus declares that the evening must go on. We watch the survivors act out their dates, at an Italian restaurant, a shopping mall and a miniature-golf course. And some startling facts are revealed: It turns out, for example, that Gwen and Jean had a son together, many years ago, but gave him up for adoption. Also, Art’s notebook did not come from outer space at all; Sasquatch recognizes the chicken-scratch as his own—he had been attempting to write poetry and a memoir in the book when it went missing.
When the dates conclude, we all flood back to the lobby. This time, we have serious work to do: talking to the suspects, piecing together the clues, solving the crime. A childhood spent devouring the Encyclopedia Brown books has done me no good—I’m a lousy detective, following all the wrong leads. What if Casteel is actually the long-lost son of Jean and Gwen, and one of them has been speaking through his headset, ordering him to kill? No—Casteel reports that he looks just like his dad, on the island. Could Nixie have been abducted by aliens? Art can’t tell me much about that possibility—he’s too distraught by the realization that maybe he was never even abducted himself. Did Harley’s pet beaver gnaw through Nixie’s wrist? No—Harley keeps the beaver’s teeth dull.
Eventually, I find Sasquatch sitting alone, looking upset and holding Nixie’s hand (just the hand). Could Sasquatch—such a gentleman to me earlier—have eaten the rest of her? He denies it, insisting, “My favorite food is dirt.” Besides, he really liked Nixie; she had been helping him finish his memoir, which, he explains, was to be about a tragedy from his past. He gets choked up and won’t tell me anything more.
I’m stumped. But those audience members who do think they’ve solved the crime are invited to write down and hand in their ideas. Whoever has the most accurate or most creative explanation will win a prize.
Back in the Red Room, Bobby Richter gives an anguished confession: he murdered Nixie to stop her from publishing Sasquatch’s memoir. It would have revealed that Bobby had killed Sasquatch’s one true love—who also happened to be Polar Reagan-Thatcher’s world-famous dog—so that he could bury the dog for “contemporary fossilization.”
Okay. I suppose that makes as much sense as anything has tonight. The only audience member who succeeded in cracking the case was my coworker Sam Masinter ’04. I think he had an advantage, though: he is a former member of Gad’s and a veteran of these murder-mystery nights. He wins a toy gun.
I leave knowing two things for sure: First, I’m not cut out for detective work. Second, if I ever try an evening of real speed-dating, it won’t be nearly as interesting as this.
Photo: Samuel Masinter '04