The cast of ‘Murder on the Grill’ poses during a recent dress rehearsal at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier. KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Keys Weekly

Longtime Islamorada resident, real estate agent and actor Patrice Messina has directed and acted in so many murder mysteries, she’s lost count.

“It originally started with food and wine week, then food and wine week went away and people started asking me to do them for fundraisers, and now I do them every year,” said Messina, who estimates she’s directed more than a dozen murder mysteries over the last 20 years.

On the menu this year: a whodunit interactive comedy taking place at the Elks Lodge 1872 in Tavernier. “Murder on the Grill” is a play based in Kansas City in the 1950s. Audience members are encouraged to dress up and try to guess who committed murder, as a hilarious cast of suspects point fingers at each other while improvising their lines.

“They are characters and their job is to build their own character because a lot of it is ad lib; it’s just partially scripted,” said Messina, who also has a part in the play.

“Improvisation is more up my alley so I have a lot of fun,” said Robert Pozo. This will be Pozo’s first murder mystery, but like most of his castmates, he has acted in past productions by the Key Players.

Messina says the actors go by the name the Mystery Players, an offshoot of the Key Players. Half of the cast members have participated in prior murder mysteries, including legendary retired fishing Capt. Skip Bradeen. He has what Messina jokingly refers to as a “cameo role with devastating consequences,” and that’s just how Bradeen likes it.

“I really look forward to it; they give me the smallest amount of lines, but they give me something effective,” Bradeen said.

Justina Lee Black is a singer and songwriter in real life. This is her first time acting locally. She plays an over-the-top beauty queen.

“I guess the character just kind of comes naturally because, being an entertainer, I just morph into whoever I need to be, so it’s a lot of fun,” said Black.

This will be Maggie Mistal’s second murder mystery. Mistal will be acting alongside her husband, Craig Zabransky, who plays a Russian rocket scientist who defected to the United States. 

Zabransky has been in more than a handful of murder mysteries and is also very active in the Key Players. The two have a son who has also acted in plays at Treasure Village Montessori. 

Acting is clearly a family affair; that’s why Mistal decided to give the stage a shot.

“I figured it was my turn to be part of the act,” she said with a laugh.

This will also be Clay Crockett’s second time in a murder mystery. When asked why he came back for another production he said, “That would be Patrice. She’s very persuasive.”

Along with the play, the audience will enjoy rock-and-roll tunes from the ’50s and a four-course barbecue-inspired meal. The proceeds go to the Elks charities with money earmarked for college scholarships for local high school students.

Debbie Hess plays saucy divorcee Barby Q. Hess loves the fact that the proceeds from the show go to a great cause.

“My son was an athlete at Coral Shores so he benefited from scholarships,” said Hess.

It’s costume designer Christina Haynes’ job to make sure the actors look the part. She’s volunteered her talents for five of Messina’s murder mysteries and wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“I love it, I love it,” said Haynes. “You’re going to see me the night of the play, I’m all over the place,” she added with a laugh.

“Murder on the Grill” takes place at the Elks Lodge 1872 in Tavernier on Saturday, Jan. 20 and Saturday, Jan. 27. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show begins promptly at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $53.75 per person and that includes a four-course dinner by Chef Mike. There will also be a best-costume contest for 1950s-era attire. To purchase tickets, visit For groups, call Terry at 305-339-8957.

Kellie Butler Farrell
Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.