There’s a cackle of mocking thunder followed by a sudden, but expected, knock. Wes Harding opens the door to the lightning-illuminated silhouettes of Nathan and Jenny Bertsch. Eerie orchestral music drones in the background, like a scene straight out of the movie “Clue.”
The couple signs the guest book by the front door using their aliases for the murder-mystery dinner party, Eddie Grayson and Rami Palletta. There’s a magnifying glass propped on the guest book, foreshadowing the point of the whole evening: solving a pretend crime.
The hosts, Wes and Christa Harding, aren’t writers by trade. Christa Harding, 34, is a psychologist, and Wes Harding, 34, is a physician’s assistant. In 2006, the couple played a mystery-party game with friends and decided they could write a better-quality game. They went on several-dozen date nights to create interesting characters and storylines.
Their hobby turned into a business when their friends wound up enjoying playing the four games they wrote. They call their company Supper Sleuths and sell dinner games (including scripts, recipes, invitations, etc.) daily to places as far as India. Their business doesn’t include hosting parties, but they do hold two a year for their close friends — like the one they’ve invited their friends from Bayside Community Church to the evening of Aug. 24, called “Murder at the Museum.”
Tonight, their friends are attending the ritzy art opening of pretend artist Raphaela Palleta’s controversial paintings. The first floor of their family home is rearranged to look like the fictional Rall Museum. The family photos are replaced with art prints; the candle sconces are lit; the rooms off the open family room and kitchen are blocked off with a curtain and a notice: “The East Wing of the museum is closed until further notice.” This is either the Harding’s sly way of hiding the toys belonging to their three children, or it could it be where the dead body resides.
Prior to the dinner, guests were sent invitations with their roles and a costume suggestions.
Christa Harding wields an artist’s notebook to become character Michaela Gelato, a competitor of the artist. Wes Harding is highbrow architect Mark Chase, the boyfriend of the artist. The Bertsches aren’t playing a couple this evening — Jenny Bertsch is playing a hyperactive, rude aerobic instructor and sister of the artist and Nathan Bertsch is playing an art-student protégé. Three more couples slowly straggle in, each one a suspect. Upon all of their arrivals, Mark Chase (aka Wes Harding) informs the guests of Rall Museum that Raphaela Palleta (the fake artist) has been murdered by one of the guests, and it’s up to them to figure out whodunit.
It gets confusing at times; guests ask, “Wait, are you talking about real life?” as opposed to their fake, potential-murderer lives.
Some were typecast. The Hardings’ friend, Matt Heffler plays sports journalist Tip Wright, which gives Heffler, an avid Baltimore Orioles fan in real life, an excuse to check the score of the game throughout the evening. During each course of dinner, the guests read a new script to bring them closer to solving the murder. With each course, or glass of wine, the guests get more comfortable.
By the end of the night, they’ve had a fun, non-traditional evening with friends.
“Back to the real world!” Christa Harding writes in an email recap of the event. “Thank God for that, because everyone’s character was pretty much a scoundrel!”
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24 Christmas Eve Family Service
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