Theater Review: CITIZEN DETECTIVE (Geffen Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on November 27, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles,Virtual


No crime is as duplicitous as The Geffen’s latest zoom-as-theater project Citizen Detective. This is the point that I say “spoiler alert” but a) nothing I do can spoil this interactive 85 minutes any more than its shoddy execution already has, and b) I can’t spoil who murdered Silent-era Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor because — we find at the end of an evening which would be better spent watching Sunset Boulevard … or Scooby Doo — it’s never been solved! So the promise that each live session will alter course based on our participation is just one of enough blood-red herrings to fill a cannery.

Mike Ostroski (top left) as Mickie McKittrick.
Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse. Illustration by Rick Geary.

Here’s the set-up: You take a personal bubble-filling survey (with options for “I wing it” etc.) and send it off to the fictional author Mickie McKittrick (the optimal syllable being “trick”). You are assigned to a group (mine was “Gut Followers”), print out a dossier and — just before your showtime — receive info on the murder victim and a suspect. Reading about this fascinating 1922 true-life shocker of the Hollywood Babylon variety turns out to be the most exciting part of the evening. What awaits is nothing but manipulation and fakery. Every audience member is on Zoom with an actor playing McKittrick and an actress playing an amateur detective who is devoted to solving crimes just for the fun of it (she has hacked her way into the “class”).

Paloma Nozicka as Andrea Piedra. Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse.

We go into our breakout rooms and discuss the details of our suspect with each other. After which, the chosen leader of each group basically reads what was on our cheat sheet while the actor gives backslapping phrases such as, “Well done!” and “Good sleuthing!” Of course, there has been no detective work so far, except by the actress, who forgot that acting for Zoom and acting for theater are two different things, compounded by the fact that the dialogue by writer/director Chelsea Marcantel is unfunny and unintelligent (the actors improvise with us as well).

Mike Ostroski as Mickie McKittrick and Paloma Nozicka as Andrea Piedra. Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse.

Turns out there are many many suspects — gay, black, blonde, rich, poor, drug dealers, and even screen legend Mabel Normand — and many many details that we don’t get until much later on. Realizing that not much else is going to happen after an hour, it seems that viewers are the ones led to slaughter, and the murder weapon is ennui (remember, on Zoom everyone can see you yawn and check your phone and slouch). But it doesn’t take detective work to see that “The Geffen Stayhouse” knows what sells, even at 65 clams (the show has already been extended). Gee, I thought their job was making theater — even in the age of COVID.

Mike Ostroski as Mickie McKittrick. Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse.

Citizen Detective
Geffen Playhouse (aka Geffen Stayhouse)
ends on December 20, 2020 EXTENDED to February 7, 2021
for tickets, call 310.208.2028 or visit Geffen


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