By Jenny Neyman
There’s been a murder in Soldotna.
Wait, has anyone seen the cook? Oh — thud — there she is. Correction: two murders.
Was that a scream? Then three.
Followed by a cruel death by Carly Rae Jepsen. Make that four.
And Hobo Jim isn’t as popular as he once was, it seems. Five.
Except the body of the first victim, Mr. Boddy, has gone missing. So, maybe four after all?
Nope. Here he comes tumbling through the kitchen door, with fresh injuries. Back to five.
With this much foul foolery afoot, in Triumvirate Theatre’s spoof of the comedy classic film “Clue,” the question isn’t whodunit, so much as who didn’t do it? They all had the means, motive and access to a weapon — though, admittedly, some more menacing than others.
Was it Mr. Green with the marine radio? Professor Plum with the gun? Miss Scarlet with the fish bonker? Mrs. Peacock with the fillet knife? Mrs. White with the landing net? Or Col. Mustard with the ominously named, yet comically innocuous Whappy the giant plush stuffed salmon?
It’s up to Wadsworth, the butler, to figure out as the rest of the dinner guests founder around for clues like, well, fish with their heads cut off.
As with Triumvirate’s previous annual fundraiser events, this is a dinner theater presentation, with dinner downstairs at Mykel’s Restaurant in Soldotna and an auction following the show to raise money for the theater’s parent organization, Alaska Children’s Institute for the Performing Arts.
This show also continues the long-standing tradition of creating a fishing-themed parody of a classic movie. Previous titles include “Gone with the Fish,” “Maltese Salmon,” “Cast-A-Blanca,” “Forrest Guppy” and last year’s “Top Chum.”
When it came to choosing this year’s source film, scriptwriter Carla Jenness said that she couldn’t resist spoofing “Clue,” the 1985 comedy murder mystery starring Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd and Madeline Kahn.
“I’ve wanted to do ‘Clue’ for years. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. I used to watch it over and over in high school on VHS,” she said.
But unlike the usual dramas and mysteries Triumvirate has chosen to spoof before, this is the first time Jenness tried to overlay humor onto a movie that was already a comedy.
“I thought the movie was hilarious, but we discovered it’s really hard to write a parody of a comedy,” she said.
So instead or reinventing this already successful wheel, Jenness decided to roll with the successful comedy of the movie — the same quirky characters, the same fast pacing, the same snappy, back-and-forth dialogue, the same characters and the same basic outline of the plot:
A group of strangers attend a mysterious dinner party at the invitation of an anonymous letter. They are met by Wadsworth, the butler of the manor, who reveals that the strangers have one thing in common — they are all being blackmailed. When his intention to bring the blackmailer to justice goes murderously awry, the guests are left to try and discover who is responsible for the increasing number of dead bodies, and prevent themselves from numbering among the victims.
The trick in writing the script was in localizing it to the central Kenai Peninsula and adding the requisite fishing theme.
“We stuck to the whole blackmail thing, but thought we’d come up with some funny things people would be trying to hide if they lived locally. And what we’ve discovered over the years is you can do anything with fishing — it kind of goes anywhere you want it to go,” Jenness said.
Mrs. White has had a disturbing number of fishing guide husbands land up a creek without a paddle, never to return.
Mrs. Peacock’s consultant husband has dipped his toes into non-Tea Party political waters.
Col. Mustard has become distracted from his duty protecting the governor’s car from being egged by Miss Scarlet’s business enterprises. Mr. Green has proposed an unpopular piece of legislation, and Prof. Plum has delved a little too deeply into the minds of fish.
They all have something to hide, and it’s up to Wadsworth to piece the puzzle together.
“Not only does he introduce all the characters, he also helps the audience understand why each character is important. And ultimately, each of the characters are responsible for understanding why Wadsworth is important in his role as a butler and in his role to be someone who assists getting the bad guy behind bars,” said Paul Morin, who plays Wadsworth.
Lofty reasons to take a role, to be sure. But also:
“Besides just being a fun character, I jump at the chance to be a butler, anytime. It’s a distinguished profession,” said Morin, a Nikiski High School graduate now back working in the area after law school and passing the Alaska bar exam.
Wadsworth helps keep the action moving. The quick pace is crucial to the comedy of this show, Jenness said, so she was pleased to have Morin — a former actor and director for Triumvirate — take on the role.
“If you don’t get that rhythm going it just dies on the vine,” Jenness said. “We knew Wadsworth would have to be young and energetic and on top of things, and Paul’s doing great.”
The height of the show is Wadsworth’s fast-forward re-enactmet of the events of the evening to explain his conclusion of who the murder is.
“It’s good cardio,” Morin said. “There’s a running requirement having to get from point A to point B. But I don’t know who wouldn’t jump at the chance of falling through a door and being caught by Chris Jenness (playing the accident-prone Mr. Green) and having to sprint all the way around again from the front of the stage to the back of the stage and back through the door again.”
But audiences need not worry if they get caught up in the comedy and miss a key clue in the plot. Just like the board game on which the movie “Clue” is based, the dinner theater audience will have a chance to guess the murderer. Right or wrong, even the cast can’t go wrong. Some of the best moments in previous movie parody shows were unscripted, usually an ad-lib recovery from something going awry.
“People like that we never really worry about being super uptight about it,” Jenness said.
This year’s cast includes some veterans of several of the movie parody shows — Joe and Paulene Rizzo, Chris and Carla Jenness and Randy Daly, as well as newcomers to the show, including Morin, Shaylon Cochran, Tasha Thompson and Terri Burdick, among others.
“There are new people with us but some old favorites. It’s a mix of people who are really relaxed with each other, and the new blood keeps it fresh,” Jenness said.
“I think people will have a blast if they come see it,” Morin said.
Tickets are $48, which includes a three-course dinner by Mykel’s at 6 p.m., the show at 7 p.m. and an outcry auction to follow. This year’s items include a season pass to the Kenai Golf Course, a fillet knife, Alaska Railroad tickets, jewelry, artwork by Jim Evenson, James Adcox, Amy Adcox, Connie Goltz, Chris Jenness, Paul Johnson and Zirrus VanDevere, photography by Kelly Reilly, and more.
“People should realize when they’re participating in the auction and watching the show and coming to eat dinner at Mykel’s that they’re helping fund truly a grass-roots effort to spread the arts (with Triumvirate and ACIPA), and one that’s been very well done. That’s all the more motivation to come out and support the arts,” Morin said.
Tickets are available in advance at Mykel’s. Reservations can be made with a credit card by calling 262-4305. For more information on the show, visit http://www.triumviratetheatre.org or visit Triumvirate’s page on Facebook.