by Eva Mikutowicz

Standing from L. to R. – Julie Perkins, Millie Cummings, Caroline Pope, Lourdes Smith (nurse’s cap), Ruth Cox (red hat), Audri Durrence (black hat), Birgitta Dahlander (coolie hat) and seated in front is Marianne Johnstone. Submitted Photo

Anyone for Chinese Take Out tonight?  Sounds like a great dinner suggestion.  However, what if “Chinese Take Out” carried a much more sinister meaning like “take out” as in premeditated murder for instance?  That was the scenario facing Marianne Johnstone’s mystery party dinner guests when they discovered wealthy widow, Mrs. Emily Boggs, dead from eating a poisoned fortune cookie.

It is 1993 in San Francisco, California and Mrs. Boggs had gathered her friends and servants to celebrate the miraculous return of her long-lost daughter, Ashley.  Ashley was kidnapped as an infant twenty-five years earlier during a riot in Hong Kong.

Now everyone close to her knew of Mrs. Boggs’ long-standing custom of always serving her dinner guests special fortune cookies containing personalized prophecies for each.  Obviously, knowing this, the killer poisons Mrs. Boggs’ cookie with deadly potassium cyanide and leaves a cryptic fortune prediction:  “Death will come uninvited.”

Of course, everyone in attendance that night is immediately a suspect in Mrs. Boggs’ death.  These include Chew Chow, Mrs. Boggs’ cook for twenty-five years, aka Julie Perkins; Penny Sylvan who is Mrs. Boggs’ live-in nurse, aka Lourdes Smith; Chen Chen, a friend of Mrs. Boggs of long standing, aka Caroline Pope;  Axel Dent who is Mrs. Boggs’ chauffeur, aka Ruth Cox; Lai Low, an attractive young Chinese girl who was staying with Mrs. Boggs to learn western ways, aka Birgitta Dahlander; Him Wong is a retired police detective from the Hong Kong police force, aka Audri Durrence and Anita Mumm who is convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that she is Mrs. Boggs’ long-lost daughter, aka Millie Cummings.

The crime and the unique interpersonal relationships between the victim, servants and guests make for an international panorama of intrigue.  No one is blameless; everyone is questioned.  Still, at the end of the play, after all the barrage of accusations and recriminations among the suspects and many clues hiding in full view, the identity of the killer and the motive came as a complete surprise to all.

Chinese culture prevailed not only in the storyline but in the costumes and food as well. Mrs. Boggs’ dinner menu notes for her assembled guests called for appetizers of egg rolls and pot stickers.  The main entrees included Mongolian beef, rice noodles, Peking pork, fried rice and Orange Chicken with tea and, of course, fortune cookies completing the celebration dinner. 

Johnstone’s  dependable support staff included photographers Mike Gill and Vivian McDonald  as well as servers Joan Greenhalgh and Louetta Edwards.  The guest list at these mystery dinners seems to be growing also and present for “Chinese Take Out” were Dorothy Olsen, Pati Kelly, Barbara J. Cagianese, Deidre D. Watts, Sherrie Rasmussen, Mike Johnson, Mardy Johnson, Kennson Smith and Eva Mikutowicz. 

Anyone in the community can be a participant or a guest at these mystery dinners simply by calling (702) 345-4459 and expressing an interest.