Despite his trusty magnifying glass, smoking pipe, and trademark trenchcoat, clever inspector Horatio Miles is clueless as guests at Reef Mansion begin dying off. Spoiled, pampered, narcissistic American singer Presley York is the first to die. Miss Heather Starlet has a guess as to whodunit, but keeps it to herself, just in case she’s wrong.
Odd duck, the melodramatic and quirky Miss Emily Plain is busy randomly pulling items from her large bag - first a clothes hanger and then a blow torch - to protect herself from impending doom.
Even with his heightened sense of smell, the innate skills of mansion dog, Sebastian, aren’t quite up to snuff. In a state of bewilderment, he points his tail from guest-to-guest in his quest to “sniff out” the sinister killer.
It’s all part of a special Murder Mystery Dinner Theater - Chawanakee Academy Charter Drama Club’s annual fundraiser - which will be held April 29 at Sierra Pines Church in Oakhurst.
Set during the Sherlock Holmes Victorian period, this spoof of Agatha Christie’s famous mystery, “And Then There Was One,” is comedy at its best from beginning to end, complete with sight gags and hilarious dialogue.
On a tiny, isolated island, 10 strangers (mostly) come together at Reef Mansion, thanks to a mysterious invitation. Even the house staff have no clue as to who hired them to work the party. The host, nowhere to be found, leaves an ominous recording that foretells evil. Just as the chocolate soldiers disappear from the mantel one-by-one, so the guests begin to die off ... one-by-one.
Eleven-year-old Emma Prescott, who plays Presley York, is now in her second year of drama.
“I’m a stuck-up, full-of-myself American singer,” Prescott said, “... the part is so much fun to play, even if I do die first.”
Christian Stinson, also 11, plays Inspector Horatio Miles, who has as much trouble spotting the murderer as the rest of the guests.
“I’ve done westerns, medieval tales, and now a mystery,” said Stinson, who is in his fourth year of drama. “This is my favorite genre because I like the thrill of not knowing who did it, and trying to figure it out. I actually have a pretty good idea who the murderer is, but in the end, I’m only 50% right.”
Miss Heather Starlet (Emma Johnson, 14), has a pretty good guess who the guilty party is, also, but keeps it to herself.
“I’m very dumb, don’t catch on to what’s going on too quickly, so when everyone else is freaking out about the murders, I’m like, ‘oh, someone died,’” Emma explained. She has been in the drama club for eight years.
Emma’s brother, Ben, 16, now in his seventh year of drama, has been hired as one of the service staff, butler Higgins.
“It’s always fun to act British and posh ... Am I one of the murder victims? Well ... that’s a surprise,” Ben said with a wink.
Creating accents and making the characters their own was an added bonus to the already over-the-top spoof.
Don-Juan-like Matthew Charisma, played by Joshua Lynch, 16, loved creating his own “weird” accent. (Those who have heard it are still puzzled, not quite sure what it’s a cross between). He’s one of the last ones standing, and while he is mildly concerned over the deaths all around him, his focus remains trying to get out alive.
A night of mystery
Dinner begins at 6 p.m., with show time an hour later. The 14-member cast will also perform a short comedy sketch, “The Case of the Missing Chicks,” written by drama teacher and director Becky Cairns.
During the pre-show, the Junior Drama Club, consisting of 13 students, will present “Scrambled,” a fairytale mystery, also written by Cairns. Who stole little Bo Peep’s sheep? Who stole Cinderella’s shoes? Who pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall?
“This is our only fundraiser,” Cairns said. “The monies raised not only fund our drama club, but provide scholarships for graduates, and purchase school supplies depending on that year’s need.”
Cairns started the drama club, which is open to all ages transitional kindergarten (TK)through high school, to help young children face their fears of speaking in public.
Emma said she used to be shy, and now she’s much more comfortable around people since taking center stage. Then there are those who seem to have sought the limelight early on.
Stinson loves acting and entertaining, so much so that Hollywood may be in his future. And should he become a leading man one day, his leading lady may be Prescott, who has wanted to be an actress since she was five.
So whodunit? Well, before the mystery can be solved, just as quickly as they disappeared, the murdered guests begin to reappear in the final scene when the story’s twist is revealed.
Well, you’ll just have to wait to find out the truth that night.
“This is our eleventh year of producing a dinner theater for the mountain community and every year seems better than the year before,” Cairns said. “Our students learning starts at home, but all the world is their stage.”
Chawanakee Academy Charter, a TK-12th grade public school and part of the Chawanakee Unified School District, offers alternative education, with high school students in independent studies, and students TK-8th home schooled.
Presale ticket prices are $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 years and under. Tickets at the door are $20. A silent auction will take place throughout the performances.
Details or tickets: (559) 868-4200.