Friday, November 27, 2009

New Mystery in the Works

My local theatre group Affton CenterStage contacted me earlier in the year about writing a new murder mystery for them. I had been kicking around a few ideas so I decided it was time to nail one of the ideas down on paper.
Before I start writing, I begin with a long mental process. As an example, I was inspired by watching a few old movies on TV. One was His Girl Friday made back in 1940 with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It's more or less a wacky screwball comedy with snappy dialogue and rapid fire one liners. I've always had a soft spot in my funny bone for witty word play. I blame the Marx Brothers and Monty Python for that. Not too long after watching that film, I saw The Thin Man on TV. Another old favorite of mine from 1934, which was based on Dashiell Hammett's story. Another fast paced witty story with Nick and Nora Charles as the detective team - sipping martini's and figuring out who the killer was - I thought to myself, I would love to write something along those lines. Where the detective is not so serious and the solving of the crime seems to be an afterthought. "Oh and by the way, the butler did it."
So the mental process began. I refer to it as simmering or fermenting. I take a few vague ideas and let them ferment into something solid. The initial idea was to set a murder mystery in the 40's and have it take place in a Manhattan Penthouse similar to "The Thin Man". Blended with the idea to utilize the witty dialogue as in "His Girl Friday". The more I thought about it, (or let it simmer) the more I felt I needed to make it my own and not just re-do something already done. In one sense I wanted to pay a homage to that 1930/1940's style of witty word play but again, I felt it should be different. In essence, I needed create something new and not to re-do.
I kept the idea of an urban detective story filled with wacky characters, similar to the old movies and carried them forward into the present day. I thought, "What if the characters of Nick and Nora Charles were around today, what would they be like? Would Nick Charles use modern technology and the internet to help solve the crime? Would he Twitter about the case?"
Running with that idea and blending a few modern day events: a villain who is a greedy, corporate tycoon along the lines of Bernie Madoff named "Gatewood" (which was the name of the greedy banker in the 1939 film Stagecoach) and few other assorted screwball characters a solid idea finally presented itself. The mental task of idea fermenting finally was ready to emerge on paper. The process of writing "Irritation To A Murder" has started. In a few weeks... I will know if it's ready.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Death of A Doornail " and "To Wake The Dead" in San Jacinto

Republished From San Jacinto California Vally Chronicle:

Whodunit? Audience will have to guess

VALERIE DEW / The Valley Chronicle
West Valley High School’s drama department will present ‘To Wake the Dead,’ which takes places at an Irish wake.

By VALERIE DEW/The Valley Chronicle

A man falls out of a window and dies. Or did he jump? Or, better yet, was he pushed?

A scorned wife’s husband is missing. Did she finish him off for cheating on her with Bambi Candy? Or was the girlfriend after his loot? Could it have been the maid?

It’s up to the audience to decide — and if they decide right, there could be a prize in it for them.

West Valley High School’s drama department is bringing its first-ever murder-mystery dinner to the San Jacinto Valley.

For years, Stacy Bailey, the school’s theater teacher, has been putting on murder-mystery dinners for her thespians.

“It’s their favorite party all year,” Bailey said.

This year, the group decided to go public with the mystery.

One of two shows will be presented each night Dec. 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Bailey said they are not telling which show is on which night because they don’t want people who have already seen it to ruin it for others. With a prize given to an audience member who guesses the killer, the actors are being tight-lipped on the whodunit.

One show, “Death of a Doornail,” is a spoof on the old drawing-room murder mysteries.

Bailey said the show is cast with “stock characters,” such as the girlfriend of the dead man, Candy Bambi; the gangster and best friend of the victim, Sal Carbone; and the inspector on the case, Inspector Bukowski.

Shannon Walsh, who plays Candy Bambi, said the show is hilarious, especially her character.

“My character is super smartastical!” Shannon said. “I’m playing the dumbest character I’ve ever played. I’m insane, and it’s hilarious to watch me be crazy on purpose.”

Mrs. Abigail Doornail — the dead man’s wife — is played by Ashley Hassell.

Abigail said her character is over dramatic, which adds to the hilarity.

“I put my hand on my head a lot and say ‘Why, I never!’” Ashley said.

Sarah Pettis, who plays inspector Bukowski, said she enjoys interrogating the others because she does it in such a sarcastic manner.

Joey Gallardo, who plays Sal Carbone, said his character is obnoxious and that adds to the humor of the show.

The second show is “To Wake the Dead.”

It takes place at an Irish wake. The man who died jumped out of a window. Or fell. Or was pushed.

The cast tries to figure out which one of them did the deed, if, indeed, the deed was foul.

Bailey said she worked a lot with the cast on casting their suspicions on one another.

Sydni Bailey, who plays Deena Koontze, said her favorite part of the show is when it is revealed what happened.

Each show has four parts.

The audience will first eat a dinner of salad, smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, and vegetables in the band room, which will be transformed into a banquet hall with a fireplace and creepy pictures.

After the meal, the audience will be ushered into the theater, where they will watch the production.

At intermission, the audience will go back into the banquet hall for coffee and desert.

When they return to the theater, the audience will have a chance to ask the cast questions to help solve the mystery.

Bailey said the cast will answer every question in character, so it’s an improv.

After the question-and-answer session, the audience will cast votes on whom they think the killer is. They will be broken up into groups depending on whom they picked.

Then the killer will be revealed.

After the mystery is solved, a cast member will pick a name out of the group of people who voted correctly. The person whose name is drawn will win a gift basket worth about $100.

Elizabeth Crowley, who plays Stephanie King, said the improv is what she is most looking forward to.

“I like to see who the audience thinks did it,” Crowley said.

Patricia Ayala, who plays Agatha C. Fletcher in “To Wake the Dead,” said she can’t wait for the characters interact with the audience.

“The characters have no idea who the murderer is,” Patricia said.

Sarah Barnes, who plays Peaches Marie Crabtree in “To Wake the Dead,” said her favorite part of the show is the question-and-answer session.

“I got my character down,” she said when asked if she was nervous about answering questions.

Bailey said the two-story set will resemble a haunted mansion.

T.J. Hepburn, West Valley’s band director, is pulling double duty as the set designer.

Tickets cost $25 or $45 for two. Bailey said reservations must be made at least three days before the show a person wants to attend.

During Thanksgiving week, no one will be available to answer the phone, but Bailey said messages will be checked for reservations.

Bailey said the murder-mystery dinner would be a perfect event for an office to attend as a holiday party. Groups of 10 or more will receive 10 percent off of the price.

Shows are at 6 p.m. Dec. 2, 3, 4, and 5.

For information, call the box office at 765-6420.