Citizen Detective at The Geffen Stayhouse

The newest Geffen Stayhouse production, Citizen Detective takes place via the Zoom video conferencing platform. Each performance is limited to a maximum of 24 participants, however the night I attended the interactive performance there were 31 participants logged in. Each ticket holders is a sleuth, trying to solve the unsolved true cold murder case of Hollywood legend, William Desmond Taylor. 

Top Left Corner: Mike Ostroski as Mickie McKittrick in the Geffen Stayhouse production of Citizen Detective. Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse. Illustration by Rick Geary.

If you love reading and solving mysteries, this interactive experience might just be your favorite show for 2020.

Written and directed by Chelsea Marcantel, she creates a mix of theater, intrigue and collaborative code-breaking as each participant is accepted into Mickie McKittrick’s (Mike Ostroski) Citizen Detective training session. 

To become a detective in Citizen Detective, you must purchase a ticket and take a personality survey one week before showtime. The Geffen staff gather all this information to determine what suspect you will be given, and who you will be collaborating with in a breakout room session. 

Participants are also emailed instructions to print out a dossier to hold onto and make notes on throughout the show. Then 90 minutes before showtime, detectives receive another email with a password to enter a site and receive information about a specific suspect in this real murder case. A word for the rise, don’t take 3 minutes to gaze over this information before showtime. Study it and make notes on your printed dossier. There is a timeline section, clues section and other suspects area to keep one organized about specific events related to the murder.

Playwright and director Chelsea Marcantel. Photo by Ryan Bourque.

Amicable House Manager Emir Yonzon welcomes and introduces each person, often sharing interesting facts discovered on the person’s survey. Right before the show started, Emir allowed one more participant to appear in a Zoom frame. Wearing bright white headphones, we immediately determine this Gen Y gal is familiar with Emir and McKittrick. She banters on and on during her introduction, saying that she text McKittrick before the show, yet he didn’t respond. Her name on Zoom is Andrea (Paloma Nozicka), and she irritatingly unmutes herself often, interrupting and disrupting McKittrick after he appears onscreen. 

Mike Ostroski as Mickie McKittrick and Paloma Nozicka as Andrea Piedra in the Geffen Stayhouse production of Citizen Detective. Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse.

McKittrick explains to be a good detective one must display MMO. When he asks everyone to enter what this abbreviation means, a few eager sleuths write in the chat box – Motive, Means and Opportunity.

Tackling the murder case of William Desmond Taylor, we soon discover the Hollywood actor and director from the silent film era, was found dead in front of his home. During the 1920s, this case became a media circus due to an interesting line up of suspects that included his valet, his cook, a Hollywood starlet, an accountant, a cocaine addicted comedic actress, and a concerned and protective mother. 

Sometimes we all work independently typing answers in the chat box and other times we work together as a group. Those who love playing detective really got into this process, while others who are shy, sat back and watched. 

Breaking into our assigned small group to discuss our suspect was awkward. You have to leave the main screen and join a break out room with complete strangers. There were five people in my group. One Zoom square had a woman celebrating her birthday with four other people in her pod. We all just looked at each other waiting for someone in the group to be the first to discuss what we wrote down on our dossier about our suspect.

After collaborating about why we believed the cook, Edward Sands, could be innocent or guilty, we then had to assign a member from the group to be our leader and speak in front of everyone on Zoom. Since no one volunteered to lead, I rallied the birthday girl from Austin, Texas to be our speaker. She did an excellent job discussing our findings with everyone and received may accolades from McKittrick.

After learning about all of the suspects, Gen Y took over and insulted likable McKittrick about living in the dinosaur age in solving this murder. When he got upset and left Zoom, she took over the show. Listened to her for a few minutes, she is very good at being irritating and I found myself scrolling to see others reactions in the Gallery view. There was a handsome man downing a beer, another man holding and playing with his dog, and a woman running her fingers through her hair who caught my attention. That’s not a good sign, when I’m more fascinated observing people inside their own home, than following the show. 

Just when I pondered how this was going to end, a surprise celebrity enters and grabs my attention, yet within minutes I realized his appearance didn’t make any sense to this story and I left the show feeling it was just meh.

Geffen Playhouse just launched a series of new live, virtual and interactive world premiere productions from its Geffen Stayhouse banner. Besides Citizen Detective, they have addedafollow-up to Helder Guimarães’ (Invisible Tango, Nothing to Hide) The Future, and filmmaker and cookbook author Sri Rao’s (Netflix’s upcoming The Actress) Bollywood Kitchen. Additional Geffen Stayhouse productions are currently in development for 2021.


Written and Directed by Chelsea Marcantel

Previews: Tuesday, November 10 – Tuesday, November 17

Opening Night: Wednesday, November 18

Closing Night: Sunday, February 7


Associate Director/Dramaturg Rachel Wiegardt-Egel

Casting Director Phyllis Schuringa, CSA


Monday              No performance

Tuesday             8:00 p.m. PT

Wednesday       6:00 p.m. PT

Thursday            8:00 p.m. PT

Friday                 6:00 p.m. PT

Saturday             2:00 and 8:00 p.m. PT

Sunday               1:00 and 7:00 p.m. PT

Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission


Tickets are currently priced at $65 per household. Available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at Fees may apply.

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