Author Barbara Fox reveals the culprit at September’s “BINGO is Murder” presentation at Empire Stage. Credit: J.W. Arnold

Author Barbara Fox has a diabolical mind. Over the past 30 years, she has written dozens of mystery novels and created murder dramas suitable for dinner parties and other special events.

Each month, she is presenting one of her “Mystery on the Menu” dramas at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. For September, the intimate theater space was transformed into a glitzy gaming palace for “BINGO: It’s Murder.” On Oct. 14, she presents “Halloween is Murder,” followed by “Lights, Camera, Murder” on Nov. 18 and “A Very Merry Murder” on Dec. 16.

Fox, who gave her first show on Friday the 13th, 1986, should also add master storyteller to her credits. From the opening of the show, she describes the “procedure” and sets the stage with care and dramatic flare.

As each audience member enters, he or she is given the opportunity to draw a part from an envelope. It’s strictly an exercise in chance as both large and small parts are comingled. Once a part has been selected comes the script, but there are no spoilers, just the cues that lead to each line.

There’s the seedy parlor owner Nick, his trusty assistant, a glamorous socialite and her maid. Other audience members are witnesses and informants and a few lucky people get to portray the police detectives.

Either there was a tour group from Newark in the audience or the vast majority of the cast felt inspired to infuse that distinctive Jersey Mafioso accent to their characters as each in turn offered their lines—between games of BINGO, of course. The lone exception was an African-American lesbian in the crowd who decided her wise-cracking maid should come straight from the cast of “The Jeffersons.”

Laughs abounded as the mostly amateur cast stumbled and bumbled through their lines. A few drinks before the show go a long way toward easing any inhibitions about standing up in front of the crowd of about 50.

As the plot thickens and more BINGOs get called, the perpetrator finally does his (or her) deed and Nick is gunned down, slumping into his chair. After examining the evidence and questioning suspects, the audience is allowed a few minutes to ponder the clues—or get another glass of wine in the lobby.

While the format is clearly better suited for a dinner or party setting, it works at Empire Stage, aided by Fox’s wide-eyed storytelling and the willingness of the various readers to enthusiastically ham it up on cue.

For an entertaining night out with friends, check out Mystery on the Menu at Empire Stage. It’s murderous fun.

Author Barbara Fox presents Mystery on the Menu at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale: “Halloween is Murder,” Oct. 14; “Lights, Camera, Murder,” Nov. 18; and “A Very Merry Murder,” Dec. 16. All shows begin at 7 p.m. and last about an hour. Tickets are $15 and advance reservations are required by calling 786-683-6078. For more information, go to MysteryOnTheMenu.com and BooksByBarbara.com.