Murder-mystery dinner guests try to solve whodunit

Murder-mystery dinner guests try to solve whodunit


It’s tricky to be an actor in this “Hillbilly Who Dun It?,” on stage Nov. 23 in Siloam Springs.

But it might be even trickier to explain the concept of the evening’s entertainment.

It’s like a game of “Clue,” but it’s not a board game, says the co-founder of Riverside Entertainment, Charla Reed. It’s like a murder-mystery dinner party, but the audience members don’t have to dress up or play parts. It includes not just one escape room but 10, in each of which teams of participants can solve a puzzle and receive a clue as a reward.

And even the actors don’t know whodunit until the final accusation is made.

“It’s unique to anything I’ve ever seen,” says Kevin Williams, who plays Sheriff Silas E. Lee in this installment. “People come in and eat a gorgeous dinner, get entertained, then solve the mystery,” adds Shadoe Vanatta, who portrays Moonshine Red. “What we’ve really enjoyed is the husbands who clearly don’t want to be here, and within 30 minutes, they are the most competitive people you’ve ever seen,” adds Reed. “They’re usually the ones who bring friends and come back three or four times!”

The whole Riverside Entertainment concept was born when Reed and her husband, Tim, left their jobs doing makeup and pyrotechnics with a traveling evangelist.

“When we came back, we decided we had to do something besides own a heat and air company,” Reed remembers. “We had to have a creative outlet.”

They started by selling fireworks, but they also created mini-dramas — war scenes, mostly — to go with the big displays. About nine years ago, haunted houses took off in the area, and the Reeds started a tiny one in a trailer. That grew up to be a haunted attraction — in what they call a steampunk event center.

“It was a metal building,” Reed explains. “We didn’t want to do a Western theme, like most people would with a metal building. So we have a ceiling full of working cogs with lights, a stage, large projector screens, a great sound system — and we can dress it up for weddings or down for a family reunion. We can seat 125 for an elegant dinner. And with a few whiskey barrels, it can look pretty country. I’m really proud of how adaptable it has turned out to be.”

It was the haunted attractions, Swampwalker Trail and Warehouse of Fear — to which the Reeds added another 5,000-square-feet this season — that led to the escape rooms. And the escape rooms work beautifully as part of the murder-mystery evening.

Reed and some of her colleagues begin the writing process by coming up with the characters, Williams explains. All of them have names somehow related to colors — a nod to “Clue” — and a framework of the story is sketched out. Then the actors — veterans with Riverside Entertainment — “run with it.”

“They are the best of the best,” promises Reed. “They have to be — so much of it is improv.”

This particular story is set in Hooter Holler and centers on the murder of the Dixon family’s prize pig, Daisy.

Why a pig? “We thought it would be funny,” Williams says simply. Reed elaborates that the last murder-mystery was very proper and British, and the idea of “the craziest family south of the Mason-Dixon Line” was intriguing.

Jonna Summers plays Mama Pearl, the matriarch of the clan.

“She will defend her family against any accusations,” Summers warns. “But be careful, because Pa Dixon’s been dead a long time so she might be on the lookout for a new husband too!

“I love playing her because she’s sassy, flirty and knows when to grab a switch to keep her kids under control or when to turn on the sweet Southern charm.”

Summers says each group of diners has its own dynamic, “so it keeps us on our toes. We get entertained, too!”

“You’ve got to be ready for anything from the audience,” Reed agrees.

“I’m a man of a lot of words,” Williams promises. “It’s not very often I don’t have a come-back. It’s just one of the gifts I have.”



‘Hillbilly Who Dun It?’:

Murder-Mystery Theater

WHEN — 6 p.m. Nov. 23; next show is Jan. 11

WHERE — Riverside Entertainment, 17023 Chamber Springs Road, Siloam Springs

COST — $75

INFO — 524-0014;

Categories: Theater