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Pittsburgh Comedy Troupe Offers Online Interactive Murder Mystery

Tessa Karel, a long-time fan of murder-mystery parlor games, decided to write her own, with a video-conference twist: “The Best Baker Showdown” is a live, virtual murder mystery where audiences can choose to interact with the suspects as they try to suss out the culprit.

Arcade Comedy Theater presents "Marjorie Funfinger's Masterpiece Mystery Games: The Best Baker Showdown": 8 p.m. Sat., March 13, and 8 p.m. Fri., March 19

Karel is a veteran of local improv-comedy stages, including at Arcade Comedy Theater, which is presenting “Baker Showdown.” The new production’s setting is behind-the-scenes at a TV baking-contest show where the popular co-host, Betsy Butters, has been found dead in her lodgings on the very night she announced the latest three finalists. Also missing is the “cowboy” judge, the haughty Dave Desertdunes.

Yes, it’s kind of a rule: Characters in murder mysteries must have silly names. Likewise for detective Marjorie Funfinger, played by Karel herself as what she calls a more effervescent Mary Poppins-like figure, in a beribboned hat. Other characters include baking-show comics Ky Ky and Sar Sar, and contestants with day jobs like scientist, shepherd, and middle-school soccer coach.

The cast of eight also features Ben Amiri, Nicole Antonuccio, Greg Gilotti, Sara Kantner, Kyle Longsdorf, Mercy Ohdner, and Nilesh Shaw. Tickets are limited to 25 for each of the show’s two streams so that audience members themselves can take small roles as baking-show crew, who can quiz the suspects and offer clues themselves (as provided by informational packets Karel sends to ticket-holders).

Audience members can also, if they prefer, simply watch the proceedings and not take part.

Karel said the show is for anyone who enjoys games or puzzles. But she also views it as an attractive alternate use for the video-conferencing technology that many of us have become all too familiar with during the pandemic. “It’s not a work meeting, it’s not a seminar, it’s an entertaining way to interact with people,” said Karel, a schoolteacher by day.

She noted that Marjorie Funfinger’s Masterpiece Mystery Games – as she’s dubbed what she hopes will be an ongoing project – isn’t a contest, and in fact is only partly about the nominal mystery. It’s also about the surprise and discovery that comedy can offer, in a new package.

“I’m most interested in kind of the absurd or dramatic opportunities there are, like soap-opera style,” she said. 

There are two performances of “Best Baker Showdown,” Sat., March 13, and Fri., March 19.

Tickets are “pay as you wish.” For more information, see the Arcade Comedy website.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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