The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries will try to clue you in. Credit: Markus Winkler/Unsplash

The operatives at The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries (now making their Chicago debut with Bramble Theatre after originating with Toronto’s Outside the March) do not offer your usual interactive show. This is apparent even before their sleuthing properly begins. After procuring a ticket, you must divulge the details of an especially vexing mystery from your life. It must be something you want solved. It can’t be anything too nefarious—no murders or kidnappings and the like. 

Your case file initiated, you will receive a call from an unknown number nightly (or daily, if you prefer) for the next six days, Monday through Saturday. By the end of the final call, the Ministry will have solved your mystery. 

I set the Ministry to solving the Mystery of My Missing Class Ring. 

What follows is a recounting of their investigation. 

MONDAY

I am in a bad mood. I don’t want to interact with the people in my household, let alone outside it. I completely forget about the Ministry until I haphazardly check my e-mail at around 7:08 PM and see a missive from them. On my phone, I see four incoming calls from “unknown callers.” Panicked, I shoot off an e-mail profusely apologizing. I swear at my phone for not having the wherewithal to call back “unknown number.” Ten seconds later, it rings. It is The Inspector. 

She asks me to remember the circumstances of the ring’s disappearance. I am happy to vent: A (dude) editor I had in the late 1980s told me to stop wearing it because it looked dorky. I took it off, even though I really loved it and it was one of the most expensive things I had ever bought. It cost $80 when I was a sophomore in 1978. Last week, the company I bought it from told me I could get a replica for around $550. 

The Inspector asks me about my routine, which throws me for a loop because what do I do all day anyway? She barks seemingly random, rapid-fire queries: What is my favorite season (fall, duh), what is my favorite snack (edamame, whatever is on sale on the Mariano’s day-old rack), what is the first song that pops into my head, lyrics and all (the Alabama 3’s version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Woke up This Morning—The Chosen One,” aka the theme from The Sopranos)

The Inspector hangs up abruptly and I’m left wondering whether I have made an ass of myself and/or been conned into divulging information that somehow paints me in a very bad light. I vow not to give away anything on night two.

TUESDAY 

I pick up on the first ring. “Inspector!” I say triumphantly. 

I am quickly deflated when the person on the other end seems genuinely perplexed. He says he doesn’t know an Inspector. He says his name is Kip Casper, reporter with the Burbank Herald. He says he’s been reading my stories and needs to talk to me about some of them. 

This scenario is not entirely implausible. In the absence of theater, I have spent much of quarantine covering Berwyn politics, and skulduggery abounds. It is entirely possible some reporter from some other south suburban paper is calling because he has information I can use. Or perhaps because I have information he can use. It happens. 

Whoever Kip Casper may be, one thing is sure: The Ministry is messing with my mind. If you’ve ever been forced to engage with someone without knowing who that someone is, you know whereof I speak. It is altogether discombobulating.

 “Kip,” I say (trying to sound professional), “I’m expecting a call right at 7 PM from someone I only know as the Inspector, and if he calls, I’m going to have to hang up on you because I have to talk to him.” As soon as the words leave my mouth, I realize I sound like I’m wearing a tinfoil hat and that if my editor gets wind of this call, he will logically conclude my marbles are askew. 

But then Kip mentions the year 1993, and a conspiracy involving a thievery of school memorabilia launched thereabouts by a criminal ring of high school mascots. Kip closes by begging me to use my “in” at the Ministry to get the mascot gang investigated. 

WEDNESDAY 

A woman calls and lobs questions at me as if I were a backstop fielding JV tennis drills. Did a Kip Casper call? How much does he know? What did I tell him? She is not satisfied with my answers. The conversation ends with her telling me she can make my life very difficult. How difficult? The mascots are angry, she says. I better put a stop to this smear on their good name or I may find myself stalked by a six-foot-tall caterpillar for the rest of my natural life. She hangs up, ominously. I decide to take matters into my own hands. At 7:28 PM, I e-mail Ministry Concierge Effie Thorne.

Greetings Concierge Effie Thorne, 

I am concerned that I might have somehow angered someone connected with my case. They ended tonight’s call rather abruptly, and I’m not sure if I said something inadvertently untoward or if perhaps the caller is simply an abrupt sort of person. I certainly can understand the latter, as I myself have been known to hang up on people when warranted. At any rate, I just wanted to make sure I have not imperiled the Ministry or incurred the wrath of tonight’s caller, who claims to have the wherewithal to send a six-foot-tall caterpillar to stalk me.

I look forward to the case’s progression. 

Sincerely,

Catherine Evelyn Sullivan 

At 7:30 PM, Ms. Thorne responded on behalf of the Ministry: 

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

I am so incredibly sorry to hear that this outrage has transpired! This is the sixth caterpillar threat we’ve received about your case. Clearly this unscrupulous person has taken an outsized interest. We advise you stay away from any open space and avoid any large cocoons. I will pass this information on to your Inspector posthaste. Please be by your phone tomorrow at 7:00 pm for an update from your Inspector regarding your case! 

Good luck out there, and please stay safe! 

Kind regards,

Ms. Effie Thorne

This clarifies precisely nothing, which I find annoying. So I decide to close by serving the Ministry a taste of its own medicine.

Thank you so much Concierge Thorne. 

I must go now as someone seems to be rather urgently pounding on the cellar door. Probably just another overzealous broom salesman but it would be rude not to respond.

My best to you and yours, 

Catey Sullivan 

THURSDAY

Shortly after 7, a woman who identifies herself as Joan Anderson with the law firm Eggers, Eggers, and Eggers calls. After checking on my well-being and asking about the ruckus in the cellar, she says she wants me to join a class action suit on behalf of the thousands who have had high school memorabilia stolen by a ring of mascot thieves. 

It is at this point that the Ministry is at its weakest. Its command of the law, for one thing, is sketchy. A competent paralegal consult would have made “Joan’s” pitch more believable. No matter. I decide this is a relatively minor sticking point when Joan puts me on hold to take another call. I can still hear her half of the conversation. She is up to no good. I’m a mark of some kind, perhaps for a consortium of sticky-fingers mascots using this class action lawsuit as a ruse to get more info out of me. 

Joan hangs up on me before I can press her on the details of this alleged class action suit. 

FRIDAY

Friday’s caller says she’s a scientist. She brings up someone called Rodney the Lion, which sends me into a moderate tailspin. Did I talk to a Rodney the Lion? She seems to think I did. The name is familiar but Rodney is not in my notes and frankly, these calls have all been so quasi-hallucinatory it’s becoming difficult to say who said what to whom and when. The Inspector, Joan, Kip, the scientist, Rodney—who are they really? 

All of which is to say, the Ministry has well and truly messed with my psyche. Well-played, Ministry, well-played.

SATURDAY 

Promptly at 7 PM, the Inspector rings. 

“You were caught up in a conspiracy,” the Inspector says ominously. “Just not the one you thought.” They explain that Kip’s cousin is involved, as is Kip, and as is a sandwich cart. 

The Inspector is slick as an oil spill on a deserted highway. Kip’s identity morphs yet again. He did in fact steal my ring and there was a strong mascot motive involved. Now he wants forgiveness. As penance, he has prepared a special treat for my listening pleasure. The Ministry signs off, leaving the Alabama 3 blaring in my ears. 

My verdict on the Ministry? They are a bit left-footed in terms of gumshoery. But their work is clever and funny, a welcome blast of oddness from somewhere beyond the walls of my home. That’s no small thing as we close in on a year or more of being unable to freely intermingle without myriad restrictions. 

The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries offers you the chance to embark on six mini-adventures with someone completely outside your known circle. It’s a laudatory form of escape. Even if they don’t find your ring.  v