No matter if you’re a Houdini or you prefer whodunits, Perplexodus Escapes has something for you.
The 3-year-old escape room business recently bought the former Gray Funeral Home and spent the past two months renovating it to allow staff to host in-house a murder mystery dinner theater. Over the weekend, they performed their first two sold out shows in the new space.
Cindy Martin, who co-owns the business with sister Celia, said Perplexodus performed three previous murder mystery dinner theaters in rented spaces in each of the Tri-Cities.
Those shows were successful and proved that the business needed its own space to host them, Martin said. Its location at 2501 W. Market St. in Johnson City wasn’t large enough for a production, so it was time to hit the real estate market.
After a short search, the sisters found the funeral home at 132 Chapel St. and fell in love. Built in 1927, before it was sold to the funeral home owners in the late 1960s, it was a Baptist church.
“I just love the history and the architecture,” Martin said. “We’ve tried to restore it to its original grandeur while we remodel it to meet our needs.”
The building is feet from gravestones in a neighboring cemetery, and, while Martin said they weren’t intentionally aiming for a spooky ambiance, the quiet neighbors seem fitting for their purposes.
The remodeling process to turn a church-turned-funeral-home into the Perplexodus Mystery Manor has been extensive. The business relocated a brick chimney and tore down an interior wall to make room for a stage and seating areas.
For the dinner portion of the “dinner and a show,” they added a commercial kitchen and improved and added bathrooms for patrons.
Perplexodus eventually plans to move its escape rooms from the Market Street building, but for now, Martin said they will stay and the dinner theater will operate in Gray.
Even with social distancing recommended as precaution to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the first two shows on Friday and Saturday sold out. Martin said staff took extra care to safeguard against the virus, like carefully spacing tables and limiting the number of tickets.
Perplexodus’ murder mystery dinner theater is different from others, Martin said, because its mystery is solved more like an escape room. Puzzles presented to diners help eliminate suspects. If the attending sleuths are wily enough to crack them all, they will definitively know who the killer is.
Thirteen actors make up Perplexodus’ regular troupe, and casting calls go out when they need more. The business’ manager earned a degree in theater from East Tennessee State University.
The three previous shows were popular, Martin said, and started grabbing repeat customers. There’s been interest from regulars for the new shows, she said.
“It’s not that scary, it’s something families can do,” she said. “It’s more like the Clue board game come to life.”