Upper Burrell playwright enjoys her 'Murder' mysteries
High-school reunions are often full of zany personalities, but throw murder into the equation and those personalities become magnified.
That's the premise of the Oakmont Elk's murder-mystery dinner, “Murder at Knee-Hi High.”
“It's about the class of ‘yesteryear,'” says Marilyn McNally, the play's author. “One of the members of the class was a writer, Spencer Reiter, and he was murdered before the reunion. It's obvious one of his former classmates was the culprit.”
The dinner theater runs Nov. 22 and 23 at the Elks. Tickets are $20.
While the subject matter might seem heavy, McNally says the story is a comedy. Characters with names such as Cookie Skortch, a TV chef played by McNally, and Maya Pantzaroff, a promiscuous divorcee, add to the laughs.
“There's nothing normal about this,” McNally says. “We have bizarre characters, to say the least.”
McNally of Upper Burrell says she didn't draw from personal experiences at her reunions with the class of 1964 at what was then Oakmont High School. She says gathers her information from all that's around her. “I see humor in so many situations in life.
“There's a lot of adult humor,” she says. “It's not crude, but it's definitely geared toward adults.”
Cast members say they enjoy adding their own influences to shape their characters. “Marilyn (McNally) comes up with the play, but we all add our bits to the characters,” says Darla Vollero, who plays Inga Paige, a librarian with a wild side. “We all get to contribute.”
Vollero, whose husband, Frank, is also in the cast, said she loves to perform in the Elks' annual production because it's an escape from reality.
“It's kind of fun to let loose your inner-person,” Vollero of Penn Hills says. “My character, she's a little off the wall, she likes to drink. When she drinks, she doesn't do things you'd expect a librarian to do.”
Michelle Shuker of O'Hara is performing in her first Elks play. “I'm the newest member, and I got the most lines, they're very trustworthy,” says Shuker, who plays Detective Brunhild Bergenbacher, who is called in to solve the murder. “I'm a lawyer in real life and a detective in the play.”
Shuker, who has performed in other productions, says this cast is always loose — which makes the play even more fun. “It's very casual, very humorous,” she says. “From what I understand, during the play some cast members will just take jabs — that aren't in the script — at other characters.”
Jan Schlegel of New Kensington plays Betsy Bouffant, an airhead beauty queen. Schlegel affirms that the cast doesn't take itself too seriously.
“We're just a bunch of crazy Elks making fools out of themselves,” says Schlegel, who serves as treasurer of the organization. “We don't take anything seriously.”
Schlegel says her husband, Harry, has been with the group for many years. “Last year, they pulled me in to it. I guess I did OK, because they pulled me back in this year,” she says. “I love how everyone gets to add their own little touch.”
Cast members agree that the plays are a testament to the hard work and creativity of writer McNally. “She's an excellent writer, and she doesn't have a sensitive ego,” Shuker says. “That's what makes it so fun. She anticipated my character to be a mean old German woman, I'm completely incapable of doing a German accent, and she was fine with me playing it my way. Her character development is outstanding.”
McNally says seeing her creation acted out onstage is phenomenal.
“I've been writing these since 2004. Last year, it was a wedding. Another time, it was a western. One year, I didn't put myself in the play, and I felt kind of left out, “ she says. “So, now I write myself in.
“I like being someone else for a while.”
R.A. Monti is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Ejections, heated moments mark Pirates’ win over Reds
- New Steelers cornerback Boykin clarifies remarks about Eagles’ Kelly
- Making environmentalism divisive
- Zimbabwe alleges Murrysville doctor illegally killed lion
- Pirates notebook: Burnett says ‘surgery is not an option’
- Outdoors notices: Aug. 3, 2015
- Rossi: Looking at the next great Steeler
- French riot police push back migrants at Channel Tunnel
- Ability to clog the trenches crucial to Steelers defense
- Penguins not alone in top-heavy approach to salary cap
- After early criticism, Haley has Steelers offense poised to be even better