No one in the cast — or audience — will be exempt from suspicion when the Valley High School Drama Club performs the humorous dinner-theater murder-mystery “You Have the Right to Remain Dead” on Nov. 8 in the school cafeteria.
The show begins with members of a community theater staging a play set in the Deep South. Fat Daddy, the wealthy patriarch of a scheming family, is preparing to change his will. Plenty of the show’s characters would like to see him dead, but when someone dies for real during their play, the community-theater actors become “themselves” again and the questions begin.
“It’s a play within a play within a play,” explains director Jeff Daugherty of Springdale Borough. “It’s very participatory with the audience. They get a chance to try to solve the murder.”
Not only is the identity of the killer in question, but, at first, it isn’t even clear who the victim is.
The play is the first dinner-theater murder-mystery ever performed at the school, and the first fall play to be staged there in several years.
Although the cast is small, a large number of students are participating in the production both behind the scenes and onstage. Students from Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center, New Kensington, will prepare and serve the dinner, do the actors’ hair and makeup, and work on sound and lighting.
Senior Brandon Farneth is cast as Fat Daddy. When the first play ends because of the murder, Farneth becomes Arnold, an over-the-top member of the theater group.
When the police arrive, everyone, including the audience, must answer their questions. “The audience gets to interact with the cast members,” Farneth says. “I think that will be a fun experience.”
Fat Daddy’s wife, Sweet Mama, is being played by 10th-grader Gabby Hernandez. Sweet Mama doesn’t much care for her husband, and she is the one who discovers that he has died.
After the murder, Hernandez becomes Doris, the theater group’s “mother hen.” When it turns out that a real murder has occurred, “Doris is freaked out about the whole situation,” Hernandez says. “She’s nervous the whole time.”
Bumbling hired hand Clete is played by Kane Piroch, who portrays actor Ajax after the murder. The 10th-grader is enjoying the humor of the dual role and the spontaneity of the post-murder action.
“I enjoy improv,” he says. “I like to work with people who aren’t expecting what you’re expecting.”
When the murderer is finally revealed, Hernandez says, “I think that people will be shocked to find out who it was.”
Drama club sponsor Brian Krugle is excited to be bringing the first interactive murder-mystery to Valley High School.
“This is the first time we’ve done anything like this. We hope the audience has as much fun with it as we’ve been having,” he says.
“You Have the Right to Remain Dead” will be performed Nov. 8, with a pasta dinner at 6:30 p.m., followed by the play at 7 p.m., in the Valley High School cafeteria, New Kensington. Admission is $25, $20 in advance from vhsdrama.org or 888-718-4253. Details: 412-607-6576 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.