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(Posted 10:30 a.m., June 25)

Murder mystery production no poultry undertaking
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Madame Ou-de-Nid, played by Lauara Grunder, interacts with a meber of the audience during Vintage Stock Theatre's murder mystery production 'A Fowl Business' on Saturday. Fred Sherwin/Photo

After an 20 month hiatus, the Vintage Stock Theatre company presented their murder mystery dinner production last weekend and by all counts it was one of their best efforts to date.

"A Fowl Business" is centred around chicken farmer Henry Cluckel and his prize laying hen "Eggie", who has mysteriously disappeared. During the first scene, which is played out entirely on the grounds of the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum, Cluckel enlists the help of two characters with dubious motives.

The first is William Showentelle, a private investigator from Montreal, while the other is Madame Ou-de-Nid, a clairvoyant whose powers become stronger the more coins you give her.

Neither of them have a clue as to the chicken's whereabouts until Cluckel recieves a ransom note. He then agrees to pay Showentelle $200 if he can find Eggie. As colateral he signs over the deed to his farm.

In the final scene the town gathers for the annual egg race, which Cluckel presides over. When he goes to give the winner his prize, which is contained in a rather large box, he pulls out a dead Eggie which causes him to have a heart attack and die. Dun-dun-da. The question is, "Who killed the bird and placed it in the box."

If you haven't been to a Vintage Stock murder mystery production they're a hoot. The audience gets to interact with the characters and vice versa, which can lead to a lot of improvisation depending on the level of participation by the audience members.

I went to the production on Saturday and it was fabulous. The energy level of the actors was off the charts, especially that of Vintage Stock veteran Dan Smyth as Chuck Cluckel and newcomer Francis Kenny as his friend Randolph Feedwell, who set the tempo in the opening scene. Their dialogue was crisp and they constantly moved through the audience, helping to draw them into the play.

Sarah Benfield as Showentelle's whiskey sipping traveling companion Tootsie Spinnie and Micheline Mathon as Gladys McHeffer also did a wonderful job as did Ian McGregor as cheese maker Gustav Rottenschmell and Dayna MacDonald who played McHeffer's daughter Lilly.

Two performances which stood out in particularly were those turned in by Laura Grunder who played the hysterically eccentric Madame Ou-de-Nid and Hayden Smith who played Eggbert Sunnyside (aka Chicken Boy) and is likely still in character a week after the production wrapped up. I especially loved Ou-de-Nid, when she went into one of her trances, while Smith is one of the east end's most promising up and coming actors.

The rest of the cast was rounded out by Jenn Jarvis who played school teacher Molly Pennib; Paul Sales as William Showentelle; Zach Hanson as Chuck Cluckel's son Henry; Kirsten Jensen as Tippy Windmill, a bizarre woman who believes humans descended from chickens; and siblings Tyler and Sydney Smith who played Molly's niece and nephew.

But the real star of the production is writer and directer John Cook, whose twisted mind came up with the crazy script and worked on the cast's improv skills.

As for trying to figure out who committed the heinous crime, I was at a complete loss, but then again I failed to guess the murderer correctly in four previous attempts.

The obvious choices were William Showentelle, who would benefit from Cluckel's death by taking over his farm and Gladys McHeffer whose husband died in a barn fire which she believed Cluckel had deliberately started.

For some strange reason I picked Chicken Boy. Actually I picked him because he told me he put the chicken in the box not thinking that he might be lying. As it turned out I was the only member of the audience who picked Eggbert Sunnyside, which either makes Hayden Smith a great actor or me the world's most gullible audience member in the world.

The real culprit was Gladys McHeffer who killed Cluckel out of revenge with the help of Madame Ou-de-Nid, who turned out to be Gladys' sister-in-law.

The production was a huge success right down to the irony of having chicken as one of the dinner entrees. This is the first year Vintage Stock has held their murder mystery dinner production in June and it's a perfect fit. One small suggestion would be to try and tie it in to the Fringe Festival for some added publicity.

As for those of you who didn't get to the play, I strongly suggest that you put it on your social calendar for next year. I promise you will be thoroughly entertained and well fed.

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



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