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Murder by Mistletoe

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Murder by Mistletoe is a full-length murder mystery/comedy

by award-winning writer Les Golden of Oak Park, Illinois.

Murder by Mistletoe -- Neil Simon meets Agatha Christie, for Christmas, at your theatre!

A jilted actor turns a staged murder mystery into the real thing.


Murder by Mistletoe, by Les Golden.


Neil Simon meets Agatha Christie, for Christmas. When a semi-professional theatre company stages a murder mystery for its Christmas play, the staged murder mystery becomes the real thing when two actors don't rise from the floor for the closing night curtain.

Act I

The frenetic chaos of a double murder is halted when BERNARD OLIVER, the president of Spectrum Theatre Company and the director of its Christmas play, A One-Horse Open Slay, jumps on stage to give notes to the actors at their dress rehearsal. After leading a round of applause for ARLENE HOWELL, the once-distinguished actress now relegated to semi-professional theatre roles, BERNARD says of the crowd at opening night, “I think we’re really going to kill ‘em.”

That weekend, the actors arrive at their dressing room for opening night.

The final performance of A One-Horse Open Slay goes smoothly until the curtain call. The two members of the cast who are murdered in the final scene, BRAD JORDAN, an independently wealthy benefactor of the theatre, and JON JEFFREYS, his lover, remain on the floor. Thinking at first that this is simply a final-performance prank, the cast is shocked when a doctor in the audience examines them and exclaims, “These actors are dead.”

The stage knife and stage gun had been replaced with the real items.

Act II

BERNARD enlists the service of HAROLD HAVENCLIFF, an eccentric private investigator with a seasoned dislike for the police and a seasoned liking for the game of darts. To minimize damage to the theatre, BERNARD hopes that HAVENCLIFF will conclude that the murders were a double suicide or murder-suicide. He decides that the next production, starring DEBORAH ELWOOD and directed by theater member ROBERTA MORRIS, must be postponed for a few months.

After interrogating the cast members, HAVENCLIFF remains puzzled and requests their presence at a séance, to be presided over by his physician friend and devotee of the occult, DR. AUBREY TUCKER. When ROBERTA is murdered by mistletoe-berry-tainted wine at the seance, HAVENCLIFF's suspicion that the deaths of BRAD JORDAN and JON JEFFREYS were not a double suicide or murder-suicide is confirmed.

Before dying, ROBERTA writes a cryptic message in wine on the white linen tablecloth. A final gathering of the cast results in a double unravelling of the triple murders, with a promise of new lives, literally and figuratively, for BERNARD, ARLENE, HAVENCLIFF, ROBERTA, and DEBORAH.

Production History

“Murder by Mistletoe” has been read by two theatre companies, and rehearsed and performed by a third. Extensive revisions of the script have followed these readings and performances and critiques by numerous theatre professionals.

Those providing these critiques include Joyce Porter, Professor of Theatre at Moraine Valley (Illinois) College and past president of the board of Festival Theatre Shakespeare Festival, Helen Manfull, Emeritus Professor of Theatre at Penn State University, the late Lowell Manfull, former Professor of Playwriting at Penn State University, and John Kaufmann, director of the theatre program at Beloit College (see his review below).

Chicago professional actress (SAG, AFTRA, AEA) Mercita DeMonk describes Harold Havencliff as “a role to die for.”

Content Level

"Murder by Mistletoe" is suitable for all audiences. It contains no vulgarity, nudity, overt sexuality, or violence. It has been read, rehearsed, or performed by high school-aged actors, college-aged actors, and adult actors.

Cast Breakdown and Casting

Of the 13 roles in "Murder by Mistletoe," 4 are women, 7 are men, and 2 can be played by either men or women. The ages of the characters ranges from teen-aged to Golden agers. The play was written by an actor/playwright, for actors. As a result, every actor has a “meaty” role.

Every character is the potential murderer(s)!

1 women, 15-20
2 women, 20-30
1 women, 50-70
1 man, 20-30
2 men, 30-40
1 man, 35-45
1 man, 40-50
2 men, 55-80
2 men or women, 50-75

One of the lead roles, Arlene Howell, the former Broadway star now performing local theatre, was designed to stimulate the box office. A local celebrity, perhaps a political figure in the community or a television news anchor or talk show host who lives in your community, or in fact a retired actress of some renown who lives in your community, might enjoy getting in the lights. Her presence would generate significant box office appeal. The same strategy can be employed in casting other roles.

In one production, for example, the role of Harold Havencliff, the private investigator, was played by the local television weatherman and the role of Arlene Howell was played by the local cable cooking show hostess! Theatre-goers enjoyed seeing those people on stage and the box office prospered.

Script Content and Promotion

The script provides all the information needed for production, including items for the playbill. In addition to a list of characters in order of appearance and a list of scenes for the playbill, the script contains a complete prop list, an effects plot, and set diagrams with prop placements. It also includes an authoritative description of the toxic and morbid qualities of mistletoe and mistletoe berries, and a mock playbill for the play-within-the-play.

In addition, we have designed artwork for posters and flyers that you might choose to use for your promotional activities, as well as a promotional packet for reviewers.

Reviewer Comment

Professor John Kaufmann, director of the theatre program at Beloit College provided this review of “Murder by Mistletoe.”

“I enjoyed ‘Murder by Mistletoe’ very much. From the thought-out program notes, the intelligent and witty dialogue and the play-within-a-play, it was clear that it was written with the audience's experience in mind. I enjoyed the noir, mystery, and theatre homage/spoofing, and the comedy and mystery paired well together: the dialogue had me laughing, and the twists and turns kept me guessing throughout. The dialogue was both witty and true-to-life, and I could hear my own voice in some of Bernard's notes to the cast (some things are universal!). The play gives the actors plenty to work with, from physical tics like the dart throwing to verbal fun like accents and repartee. The structure and plotting play well, with the repetition of the bloody climax of ‘Slay’ paying off in the end. ‘Mistletoe’ offers strong characters, comedy and rich plotting. It seems like just the thing that theatre companies would relish.”

About the Author

The award-winning writer Les Golden learned his craft under Ann Woodworth, the distinguished professor of theatre at Northwestern University and Del Close, the legendary guru of Chicago’s Second City improvisation nightclub, among others. He has over 100 professional theatre and film credits and is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Literary Agent Contact

Jordan Rosenbaum
E/L Agency West

Please contact the E/L Agency West at the above email to receive excerpts of the script or to place an order. Royalty rates for “Murder by Mistletoe” are negotiable, based on the tax status of your theatre (profit or non-profit), the length of the proposed run, and the seating capacity of your theatre.