By Shawnees Peacock
Mt. San Jacinto College student
Well-established community theaters tend to represent the heartbeat of the arts and the people in that particular city. Arts Council Menifee members realized the need to bring theater to Menifee earlier this year by having its Theater Division present its very first play,a Murder Mystery Dinner titled “Death Plays a Role”, on St. Patrick’s Day weekend at the Kay Ceniceros Center. Both performances sold out and were very well-received.
This production, directed by the Chair of the Theater Division at Arts Council Menifee, Linda Denver, would not have been successful if it weren’t for the talented ensemble cast. The all-volunteer cast included Hank Kasperek, Gina Kraut, John Overton, Joe Quinn, La Sondra Mila, Darcy Kuenzi, Lois Palmer, Tom Kuenzi, Corinne Williams, Assistant Director and Lead Detective Bettie Spatafora and plus Irish dancer Riannon Corwood.
The playwright, Jack Pachuta, is the writer and developer of this murder mystery. “It’s a satire on murder mysteries,” said Denver.
Due to the nontraditional nature of this play, it required talented actors who could improvise rather than just recite lines from a script.
“The actors have no lines, but they do have to know their characters in and out,” said Denver. “The actors studied a profile of themselves as well as descriptions of their relationship with all of the other suspects in the show.
“Some murder mysteries make the characters act as if they are guests, but we did not do that. We made the actors obvious in character and obvious with their relationships with each other. We even distributed material to all the guests so they can identify who the characters are.”
The nature of this play dissolved the wall that usually separates the actors from the audience. The tables at which the guests were seated acted as the “mini-stages”. Each actor went from table to table. This gave the guests the opportunity to interact with the characters and with each other. Each table was told to work as a group in order to find the solution to solve the mystery.
Although the plot of play was rather dark (it concerned finding out who killed Eileen, who is never actually seen), one could soon forget the serious nature of the subject at hand due to the play’s comedic air. The fun mood and attitude of the play is created by the unique and sometimes wacky characters and their tangled relations with each other.
This Irish-influenced play is ironically built around theater. The plot is advanced by the character Eileen Sullivan’s unexplainable death as she performed on stage. A complication arises, since each of the seven suspects has some viable reason for killing Mrs. Sullivan.
Because this play is character-based, each actor had the important task of making sure that their character’s persona shone for the audience.
The actors who assumed the roles of characters like Seams Sullivan (Eileen’s older brother) or Dack Gimlet (Eileen’s agent) came to life due to their skillful ability to transform the simple descriptions on the script into something that makes the character more real to the audience.
Although each actor was able to make use of his or her individualized theatrical backgrounds within their performance, the conventions of this play rely heavily on the connection of the characters with one another.
“There was really no leading lady or leading man. All of them had to work hard,” said Denver. “They are all equal.”
The ensemble cast of Arts Council Menifee's successful first sponsored play helped to reinstate the need to bring theater to the community.
“Arts Council Menifee can help Menifee build its culture because our purpose is to bring out all kinds of talent within the community” said Denver.
Community theater is of importance because it acts as a platform to showcase the hidden talent that lies within the city of Menifee. It also allows theater-lovers to support the art form they enjoy so much.
“No matter the size of the community, if you have people in that community that are interested in theater arts and are in tune with the community, then you will have theater,” said Denver.
For more information on the Theater Division of Arts Council Menifee and future performances, please visit www.artscouncilmenifee.org.