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(Posted 11 a.m., Aug. 27)
Vintage Stock Theatre whodunit keeps audience guessing to the end
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Melville Mercantile, played by Dan Smythe, offers some miracle peanut past to Hazel Nuttes and Lance O'Menny, played by Cassandra Olsthoorn and Albert-Nicholas Nassrallah, during the opening scene of Vintage Stock Theatre's "A Case of Murder". Fred Sherwin/Photo


For the past two Saturdays the grounds of the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum has been the scene of murder most foul as the Vintage Stock Theatre Company presents it's annual murder mystery dinner theatre.

This year's production is entitled "A Case of Murder" written by Vintage Stock Theatre veteran John Cook and co-directed by Marni Hunt Stephens and Chris Story who did triple duty by playing the murder victim and wrote the lyrics for each of the characters' songs in the final scene.

One thing about outdoor theatre is that you can control almost every thing except the weather, which the company found out during the opening night's performance when it poured rain for the first three scenes.

In the best spirit of "the show must go on", they performed the first three scenes in the Vars train station, a tent and the school house respectively before braving the elements for the actual murder scene. The final scene and the dinner both take place under a roof.

Fortunately for both the cast and the audience members, the weather was absolutely perfect for Saturday's encore performance.

"A Case of Murder" is set in a small Eastern Ontario town in 1928. A new school teacher has just arrived and the townspeople are preparing for the annual lemonade and cookie contest.

As in past murder mystery theatre productions put on by Vintage Stock Theatre, the grounds of the museum form the set. As you pass through the Vars train station you’re handed a copy of the local paper, The Village Echo, which contains a number of stories from the period including a few that give some insight into some of the characters you’re about to meet.

The central characters in "A Case of Murder" are the new school teacher C.W. Jackson, the school trustee Henry Penn-Pusher, a traveling salesman named Melville Mercantile and feuding cousins Marion Nettes and Hazel Nuttes who are respectively the reigning lemonade and cookie champions.

The characters introduce themselves to the audience and during the opening scene they intersperse with the crowd. It is the audience’s job to interact with the characters and try and glean as much information from them as possible.

Things start to get interesting when two young dandies arrive in town looking for a Mr. Vade who supposedly ripped them off in an investment scheme. One of the young men, Nick Tie, is certain that the new school teacher is Vade in disguise.

Two brothers have also arrived in town under the guise that they intend to open a funeral parlour. And then there's Gigi Goings a "famous" French poet, or so the audience is told.

Jackson, Mercantile and Goings all have attaché cases which they seem desperate not to part with. Over time we learn that Goings case contains school supplies, while Mercantile's bag holds his miracle remedies. As Jackson goes to pay Mercantile for a certain amount of school supplies he mistakenly pulls out a thick wad of bills. All of which are clues to solving the mystery.

Reeve Raymond Leville, played by Conan Moore, motions for help after C.W. Jackson, who is played By Chris Story, falls unconscious will judging the lemonade and cookie contest. Fred Sherwin/Photo


During the second scene, the Digger brothers loose their fake beards in a scuffle which is when the audience finds out that the brothers are actually Sarah and Barbara who only recently discovered that they are both married to Mercantile. They've come to town to seek revenge.

The key to deducing a Vintage Stock Theatre murder mystery production is to be in the right place at the right time and to overhear the right conversation. It is also helpful to compare notes with other audience members.

The murder takes place in the gazebo during the judging of the lemonade and cookie contest. The new school teacher has been recruited to replace Mercantile as the judge at the last minute by Henry Penn-Pusher. After making it through the lemonade portion of the contest, he expires while eating one of the cookies. It is at this point that we learn that C.W. Jackson is actually Mr. Vade.

By the time Scene 5 takes place in the dining area, the list of potential suspects is almost as long as the list of characters. It is during Scene 5 that the audience learns how the characters are all interconnected. For instance, we find out Gigi Goings is actually the real C.W. Jackson and that her father was Mr.Vade's business partner who he set up to take the fall for the investment scheme.

Scene VI is also when dinner is served, which is always one of the highlights of any Vintage Stock Theatre murder mystery production. Dinner also affords members of the audience one last chance to question the various characters as they mingle from table to table.

By the time dessert is served it is decision time. At my particular table is Ottawa-Orléans MP Royal Galipeau and his wife Anne Pallascio as well as the producer of this year's play Sally Osbourn.

As you can expect, Sally wasn't saying anything. Anne and I both think the real C.W. Jackson murdered Vade out of revenge, while Royal believes Henry Penn-Pusher did the dead because of his mustache. As it turns out, Anne and I are wrong and Royal and 33 other audience members are right.

All in all it was another enjoyable evening both in terms of the production and the dinner which which was provided by Shaz catering. Fantastic performances were turned in by the entire cast which included a number of first timers like Cassandra Olsthoorn who played Hazel Nuttes and Dean Randall who played Penn-Pusher.

Among the other cast members were Sarah Benfield who played Marion Nettes, Dan Smythe who played Melville Mercantile, Laura Grunder and Micheline Mathon who played Sarah and Barbara, Jamie Gummo who played Gigi Goings and Christine Jackson, Albert-Nicholas Nassrallah who played Lance O'Menny, Nicolas Dubus who played Nick Tie, Karine Longpré who played Grace Leville and Conan Moore who played the town reeve Raymond Leville.

Vintage Stock Theatre is already preparing for their annual "Shades of he Evening" series. This year's production is entitled "Nothing But My Heart".

The "Shades of the Evening" series is performed on the Cumberland museum grounds entirely by candlelight and borrows on the history and legends of the local community. Performances will be held on Sept. 22 and 23 and Sept. 29 and 30. Tickets are $12 per person and can be ordered by visiting www.vintagestocktheatre.ca or calling 613-860-0603.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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