Hope area playgoers who enjoy a good murder mystery seasoned with a dash of comedy are invited out to WILLow LeaVes of Hope this weekend as the play “A Murder Is Served” is presented for its three final performances at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday sponsored by Passion for Acting Theatre Company and WILLow LeaVes of Hope.

The dinner theatre production is an original play written by Columbus resident Jason Bowser, says co-director Connie Kiviniemi-Baylor.

“With COVID and everything and numbers being down, whether you have one person or one hundred people in the audience you have to pay the same amount of royalties,” Kiviniemi-Baylor says. “I was saying it would be great to do an original play and not have to pay for royalties and buy scripts and have all that outgoing expense.”

Kiviniemi-Baylor and Bowser are no stranger to working together on creative collaborations, she says. When the idea for the play was proposed, Bowser didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge.

“We came up with the basic plot and characters and who we would have play them,” Kiviniemi-Baylor says. “And that was about as much creativity as I had at the moment. So he ran with our idea and wrote it in three weeks’ time.”

Bowser says the two-hour long mystery is the first he has written through to completion. And it likely won’t be his last, he adds.

The 43-year-old performer is no stranger to the stage and it is that experience which influenced Bowser’s approach when crafting this play, he says.

“I’ve done a lot of murder mysteries around town, small ones, and they always seem to be very well attended,” he says. “I think people like to go and have a little fun and try to figure out who did it before the ending.”

When he sat down to write, Bowser admits he had a clear roadmap in his mind of where he was going to lead the cast of eight characters he and Kiviniemi-Baylor had crafted. However, things don’t always go according to plan.

“It was very interesting,” Bowser says. “When I was writing it I knew where I wanted to start and end, but as I was writing it all my characters evolved and none of them ended up where I thought they would be. So my characters were almost writing themselves and I was watching it unfold as I was typing it.”

Kiviniemi-Baylor admits her original intention was to solely direct but, like the play’s characters, things change.

When some of the actors originally cast for the production were unable to perform as hoped, Kiviniemi-Baylor stepped in to cover the role of Mrs. Dee Bates.

“I am the wife of the gentleman who is murdered,” Kiviniemi-Baylor says. “He is a billionaire and supposedly she married him for his money. She’s a bit unscrupulous and not the most pleasant character to be. So I’ve had fun, the best part is there are flashbacks and you get to see the different scenes from each of the characters’ perspective and what they want the detectives to know --- which may not be the truth.”

Veteran actor Cori Brod portrays Mr. Bates’ straight forward and sassy secretary, Betty.

As Brod looks forward to this weekend’s performances she says one challenge being onstage is making sure the lines flow without hiccups and the ambiance is kept light and fun.

“I really hope the audience feels the lightheartedness of it and can have a good time being together and seeing a show again,” Brod says.

It is a sentiment Kiviniemi-Baylor echoes, especially with the overwhelming positive response from opening night last weekend in the rearview.

“I just hope they have a fun, enjoyable night,” she says. “There was lots of laughter on opening night. I just want people to get out and have a good time.”