by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he wealthiest woman in the world has just died, and The Will of Fortune starts with the reading of -- you guessed it -- her will. But hey, that guy standing next to you in line before dinner? He's turned out to be the son-in-law of the deceased. Across the room, a couple of the dead lady's other relatives are having a loud argument. Even the waitstaff looks a little suspect.

The Will of Fortune (at CenterStage through Nov. 3) is a murder-mystery comedy and dinner theater experience that serves a little mayhem with the main course. Director Olivia Brownlee explains that her actors "will be in character all night, sitting in the audience all through dinner and dessert, sitting with guests and chatting with them."

Half the play's scenes are scripted, and half will be improvised. But because there's certain information that the audience has to know, Brownlee says that even the unscripted scenes "have to be blocked in a certain way, and [the actors] have to be sure to get the clues out. The rent-a-cop, for example, needs to get alibis from all the characters -- but also from everyone in the audience. The lawyer will get you to sign a disclaimer -- just for fun, of course."

At the end, everybody gets to vote on the murderer's identity and motives.

But the crime-solving won't be easy. Twenty years ago, when playwright Jean Kavanagh produced an earlier version of Will, none of the audience members correctly guessed whodunit -- or even why they done it: "We could have used neon arrows pointing to the clues, and some of the participants still wouldn't have picked up on them," she says.

Now Kavanagh has streamlined Will, reducing the number of murders by one and the number of characters from 13 to nine. Brownlee says that "this show defies the mystery genre stereotypes -- you won't fear the villain, you will not be in awe of the crime-fighting mastermind, and you won't leave with much hope for whoever's left. But that's the fun of it. You'll have played along inside the story: You are the crime-fighting mastermind, you get to talk to the characters right then and there."

Brownlee has even prepared her actors "for overzealous audience members who will try to grill the actors and get them confused. I hope we get some audience members to stand up at the very end and claim that they committed the murder."

The Will of Fortune continues at CenterStage's dinner theater, 1017 W. First Ave., on Thursdays-Saturdays, Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 1-3, at 6:30 pm. Tickets: $43. Call 74-STAGE or 325-SEAT.

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