By Jenny Neyman
Irish temper — somewhat unexpected, extremely passionate, yet very short-lived. That about perfectly sums it up for the victim in “Eat, Drink and be Murdered,” a murder mystery dinner theater show to be performed this weekend in Kenai.
The play, by Tony Schwartz and Marylou Ambrose, is about an Irish family feud, between the O’Riley and McFadden families. Rose, an O’Riley, had the audacity to marry a McFadden, and now, at her 80th birthday, is the elderly matriarch of the extended blended family. But don’t be misled by the festivities into thinking this family blends as well as a nice Irish whiskey. They’re more like mixing moonshine with milk.
Rose, played by Terri Zopf-Schoessler, may have been crazy in love back in the day, but she wasn’t crazy.
“She gave her husband, a McFadden, the recipe for Wild Irish Rose Whiskey, but she held back a single ingredient. She goes down to the distillery every day and puts the secret ingredient in. That’s how she retains control,” said Ken Duff, who is producing the show, with Ann Shirnberg directing.
We meet the family at Rose’s 80th birthday celebration, where everyone is scheming to get a hold of the secret ingredient, both the O’Rileys who work at the distillery, and the McFaddens who own it.
There’s Connor McFadden, Rose’s ruthless son, who runs the distillery, played by Ian McEwen. Seamus O’Riley, played by Cliff Bouchard, works as foreman and dreams of taking over the distillery. Local priest and Rose’s nephew, Father Michael Francis Patrick O’Riley, played by Allen Auxier, has motives as dark as his black priestly garb. Connor’s wife, Kathleen McFadden, played by Donna Shirnberg, had secrets of her own. Rose’s old-maid sister, Hannah O’Riley, played by Margaret Gilman, is about as bitter as they come. And then there’s Nurse Kelly, Rose’s caretaker, played by Charlissa Magen, who is as potently mysterious as the family’s Irish Rose Whiskey is just plain potent. And for a dash of complete ridiculousness, there’s “Janet from Another Planet,” played by Larissa Notter.
This being a murder mystery, someone has to take an ill turn. Duff doesn’t want to ruin the surprise, though.
“I’m not going to give up who dies. But I will say he is the worst character in the whole show. It becomes obvious that everybody wants to kill him,” Duff said.
Worst as in morally reprehensible or — since this is a melodrama — worst as in the most scenery-chewing, nerve-grating character?
“A little of both,” offered McEwen.
“But more the morally reprehensible,” Duff said. “Everybody makes a death threat against him.”
The victim concludes a particularly obnoxious interaction by taking a swig from a bottle of Wild
Irish Rose Whiskey, realizing too late that someone has poisoned it with arsenic.
But who? Everyone had motive and an opportunity to be alone with the bottle.
“The audience gets to pick who actually is the murderer, and then the police (played by Chuck Davis) will come in and haul them off,” Duff said.
Letting the audience solve the mystery is the reason they chose this script, Duff said. Or one of the reasons, at least.
“We looked at all sorts of other scripts and we didn’t like any of them. The reason we did this one is we were looking for the audience interaction part of it,” Duff said.
And the show offers plenty of opportunity for over-the-top performance — opportunities not missed by the cast.
“There’s lots of laughs, and this cast is just wonderful for coming up with ad libs. Especially Terri pulling everything out of her bodice, and being absolutely flaming outrageous,” Duff said.
The accents add a little flair to the performance, as well. Yes, accents, plural — as in everyone in the cast has one, and they tend to geographically migrate.
“Terri goes from an Irish to a Yiddish to a Russian to, well, she throws in some Hispanic too,” Duff said.
“You got some ’splaining to do,” Zopf-Schoessler intones, in a Cuban, Ricky Ricardo-esque drawl.
Dinner is beef Wellington and wild rice pilaf, with an appetizer course and dessert. The show is a fundraiser supporting senior programming, both at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center and Frontier Community Services. The show will be performed at the Kenai senior center Friday and Saturday nights. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., dinner is at 7 p.m. and the play starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35, available in advance at the senior center and Charlotte’s Restaurant in Kenai, River City Books in Soldotna, and Frontier Community Services in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky-Beach Road. For more information, call 283-4156 or 262-6331.