‘Dinner Detective’: A whodunnit with dinner and drinks at Patrick O’Shea’s

There has been a murder at this dinner party. The killer is still in the room. It might be a stranger, it might be the person you came with … or is it you?

That’s the premise of the “Dinner Detective,” a murder-mystery dinner show that has been running in Louisville for two years. It’s a franchise of a national chain, and the franchise is owned by Allison and Kasey Learned, who operate shows in nine cities from their Denver home.

The couple only visits Louisville a few of times a year. Serendipitously, Insider Louisville contacted them for an interview just days before they were to arrive here for their semi-annual visit, so we had the chance to sit down with them and their regional producer, Brandon Saylor, at Loft 123 inside Patrick O’Shea’s downtown.

Allison got started with “Dinner Detective” when she was an actress in the show in Los Angeles. The founder, Scott O’Brien, was a writer on several of David E. Kelley’s TV shows. When she and her husband decided they had some money to invest, the housing market on the West Coast was tanking. So she asked O’Brien about franchising. Allison said Kasey wasn’t really into things like dinner theater, but he saw the financial possibilities and made the deal.

Loft 123 is part of Patrick O'Shea's downtown. | Courtesy of O'Shea's

Loft 123 is part of Patrick O’Shea’s downtown. | Courtesy of O’Shea’s

Now the couple has franchises in Charlotte, Houston, Kansas City, Louisville, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Raleigh-Durham/Chapel Hill, San Diego and San Francisco. Saylor was an actor in the show before he became an associate producer for this region.

Although the mystery is scripted, about 70 percent of the show is improv. They have around 30 actors in Louisville, but only nine are employed for any given show. Most of the actors sit with the audience and don’t identify themselves as an actor. Also, people making reservations for the show can request to be made part of the show. If they’re selected, they’ll receive details about what they’re supposed to do in advance.

Local actors include comedian Keith McGill and Alphaeus Green Jr., currently starring in StageOne Theatre’s “Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Unlike most dinner mystery shows, this is not a period piece. That way, the actors can more easily blend in with the audience. Allison said when the show is over, people often tell their actor tablemates that they had no idea they were part of the show (and often they’re disappointed the stories the actor told weren’t true).

The Learneds’ franchise has three scripts in play, but only one script is performed in Louisville.

When you arrive at “Dinner Detective,” held at Patrick O’Shea’s, you are checked in and you select an alias. You’re given a meal ticket and assigned a table. There is a bit of social time before things get going, and cocktails are served. Before the start of the four-course meal, someone lays down the ground rules.

Then, the first person dies.

The show is in four acts, each occurring between courses, so you don’t have to eat while you try to find the murderer. The person who figures out who the murderer is and why they did it gets up to a $100 prize.

“Dinner Detective” also does private events and has even done few weddings.

Allison describes the show as “‘CSI’ meets ‘Reno 911.'”

The next performance is Friday, March 25, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $54.95.