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Theater Review: “Citizen Detective” Mulls an Unsolved Hollywood Murder

Designed for mystery lovers, amateur sleuths and those itching to interact with like-minded true crime aficionados, Citizen Detective from the Geffen “Stayhouse” offers an amusing diversion. Audience members investigate the century-old, real-life murder of prominent silent film director William Desmond Taylor, then collaborate to share observations and theories. At the end, the group votes to accuse a murderer.

Why was a culprit never brought to justice? Were investigators paid off? Did the studio launch a cover-up? In short, whodunnit?

True crime author Mickie McKittrick instructs the audience on how to examine clues and uncover evidence. He explains that citizen detectives have been instrumental in closing out previously unsolved mysteries, lending a sense of purpose to the proceedings.

Different audiences take the show in different directions, so it’s never quite the same. With a maximum of 24 audience members, everyone feels part of the experience, making Citizen Detective a true interactive theater experience.

Prior to the show, ticketholders receive an email with a dossier worksheet and a brief personality test billed as the method that will be used to assign them to teams. Then, 90 minutes before the Zoom curtain lifts, a unique link takes you to a profile page to determine whether your assigned suspect had the means, motive and opportunity to commit the crime. Teams of four or five meet in Zoom breakout rooms to compare notes about clues. Team leaders are selected to present findings to McKittrick.

From then on, the show barrels toward a conclusion that does indeed offer some suspense. Despite unpredictable audience participation, the show is in fact tightly scripted and cleverly designed. It was written and directed by Chelsea Marcantel, author of more than 30 plays. Watch for seamless performances by Mike Ostroski, Paloma Nozicka and a special guest.

The Geffen has truly mastered Zoom as an entertainment platform. The effective use of breakout rooms, presentation mode, spotlighting, split screens, polling…the strong hand of creative and competent stage management and direction should be celebrated. Only the opening check-in process feels somewhat clunky, as early, and even on-time, arrivals wait for the laggards to be processed. That’s a petty complaint, though, for such a tight and fun show.

Weeknight performances (except Monday) are at 6:00 or 8:00 pm. There are two shows each on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $65 and are available here. Running time is 85 minutes without an intermission. Citizen Detective has been extended through February 7, 2021.


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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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