Tracey Tong/metro ottawa


Actresses Carrie Gaetz, Allison Brennan and Shawna McSheffrey, from left, share a cuddle during a frightening moment in Deadly Desperate Housewives, a Scarlett’s Dinner Theatre production in the Velvet Room.


As a society, we can’t live without our thrills and chills.

Even during dinner hour.

Enter Scarlett’s Dinner Theatre, where your rare steak isn’t the only thing that’s bleeding.

“All kinds of homicides and horrible goings-on take place here,” said Noel Counsil, the owner of Eddie May Entertainment, which produces Scarlett’s Dinner Theatre. “People seem to enjoy themselves thoroughly in these situations. Everyone dives right in.”

The original murder mystery dinner theatre in North America, Scarlett’s Dinner Theatre dates back to 1983.

The current show, a spoof on Desperate Housewives entitled Deadly Desperate Housewives, plays out in about two-and-a-half hours, while a three-course dinner is served. While there are breaks in the show to allow the audience time to talk amongst themselves and chew their food, the actors come around and mingle with the guests.

Depending on how involved they want to get, audience members can take notes on the crime, examine evidence, interview “suspects” and — at the end of the evening — help the detective solve the crime.

Like a real life game of Clue, the show attracts sleuths of all ages. A typical night at Scarlett’s will yield groups ranging from a grade school graduation party to a 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

Although being a safe voyeur to a heinous crime can be fun, audiences aren’t the only ones enjoying the show.

For professional actors like Jody Haucke, the fun is in the fact that the show is never the same twice.

“I love interacting with people,” said Haucke, who’s been doing shows for 15 years — and estimates he’s died 500 times over.

Sometimes, actress Shawna McSheffrey catches people off guard when she approaches them.

“You have to have a backup plan for everything,” she said, acknowledging that for actors, dinner theatre is a form of improvisation.

A high school drama teacher, McSheffrey also performs professional and amateur theatre. But murder mystery is different from anything else she does.

“You interact with the audience in a way you don’t get to with other theatre. There’s no wall. The audience is playing it out with you minute by minute.

“It’s way more fun when they play along,” McSheffrey added.

Although they know it’s only theatre, some people are still surprised, Counsil said.

“Our murders are big and spectacular,” said Counsil. “We’ve had some people who were startled. They’re just starting to tuck into their filet mignon when someone screams. They pop out of their chair.”

Look for Metro reporter Tracey Tong’s Cityscapes column every Wednesday.