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Oakmont church finds hosting a birthday party can be 'Murder'

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 6:36 p.m.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
Rosemary portrayed by Becky Houston of Oakmont, prepares to celebrate her birthday during the Oakmont United Methodist Church's 20th annual Murder Mystery Dinner. Meanwhile Relatives Billy portrayed by Bill Kennedy of Oakmont, Valerie portrayed by Heather Fichte of Oakmont) Melanie portrayed by Julie Kelley of Lower Burrell, and Marjorie portrayed by Sherry Lauffer of Plum, conspire to to kill her during her birthday celebration.

Rosemary is hosting her own birthday party, but not everyone is there to celebrate.

When the unpopular woman meets a dastardly fate in the cafe, it appears her guests and restaurant staff each had a motive to off her.

Even the bumbling detective, who just got his degree in the mail, isn't what he seems as he questions the witnesses.

Audience members at Oakmont United Methodist Church's 20th anniversary Murder Mystery Dinner will be able to investigate the whodunit for themselves.

“Each table of eight works together and submits one answer as to who they think the killer is,” says director Donna Jacka of Oakmont. “If their table answers first with the correct answer, the table wins a prize for each person.”

This will be Sherry Lauffer's first time acting in the Oakmont church's dinner-theater production.

“I play Marjorie,” Lauffer says. “I am one of four siblings to Rosemary. (She) holds the purse strings to the family chicken-processing business, which annoys me, because I have a banking background and would like to make some changes to the way the business is run.”

“Guess that gives me a ‘motive,'” Lauffer says.

Yet, Marjorie is hardly alone in that.

Dave Fitche of Oakmont, who plays the maitre d', “wants to appear sophisticated, but is not so convincing. He likes the cafe, but not necessarily everyone in it.”

During “A Birthday at Cafe Murder,” each table will work together to solve the mystery by purchasing clues and newspapers for 25 cents. Proceeds will benefit church missions.

About 120 seats are available for each show.

“We usually sell out,” Jacka says. “We started out with Friday and Sunday only, but due to its popularity, a few years ago we added the Saturday luncheon. Not only does this allow for more seating, but makes it possible for people to attend who do not like to come out so late.

“It is a nice break for people who have cabin fever and need to get out for something fun,” Jacka says. “I think the success of the dinner, besides good food, is that everyone has a fun evening with the side benefit of helping a worthy cause.”

The Rev. Linda Chambers, who will portray “Aunt Violet,” says she looks forward to how the audience will respond to the show.

“My favorite part is finding out which person is the murderer,” Chambers says. “Our intent is for the people attending to enjoy the play and the meal.”

Private Investigator Reginald Harris, played by Jim Anderson of Harmar, took cues from famous detectives like Peter Falk's Columbo and Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau.

“I always look forward to the beautiful people who attend,” Anderson says. “We have many return diners who simply enjoy what we do and support our cause.

“I'm also amazed at what the audience finds funny,” Anderson says. “There are things in there that we run through that seem nonchalant that the audience will go nuts over, and other things we purposely build in there that don't get much response. Every crowd is different, and they all react differently, which sometimes takes you by surprise.

“Also, the many volunteers who help in the kitchen, serving food, selling programs, advertising, selling tickets and preparing the church to receive the audience are just truly devoted to the cause, too,” Anderson says.

Stephanie Ritenbaugh is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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