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Popular 'Westing Game' adapted for stage

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 1:01 a.m.
Carol Waterloo Frazier | Daily News
Timothy Dougherty and Victoria Perl rehearse a scene in McKeesport Little Theater's production of 'The Westing Games,' which opens on Friday.

When the lights dim at McKeesport Little Theater this weekend, the 1979 Newbery Medal-winning novel “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin will come to life.

The novel has become popular reading material in school for many students and that popularity has carried over to the stage.

“When I was going through school, this was not something I read,” director Mark Calla said. “Today, it's read a lot in school and is pretty popular.”

Mystery fans should enjoy the show, which is about Sam Westing's 16 heirs trying to decipher clues and determine how the self-made millionaire died. The winner will inherit his $200 million fortune and his company.

“It's a scenario where you have a group of people who have to look at each other in a different light,” Calla said. “In this story, they form a real bond and a lasting friendship.”

Unlike the book, he said, the play ends with the mystery being solved but does not tell what happens to the characters down the road.

“This is about a locked-room mystery,” he said of the show. “Before Westing dies, he manipulates all 16 heirs into taking a room in the same apartment complex and he pits them against each other.”

The focus of the show, Calla said, is a young girl named Turtle Wexler.

“It's really and truly her story,” he explains, “but you get pieces of all their stories throughout the show. More than anything, it's about her and the relationships she encounters along the way.”

The cast for “The Westing Game” is a mixed bag of experienced performers and newcomers to the stage. “There are some long, extended scenes with 14 people in a room together and that takes a lot of concentration and listening skills,” the director said, noting there are approximately five performers making their acting debuts. “The seasoned actors are an example for the newcomers because they can look up to them and watch them and learn and that is always a good thing.”

In the final rehearsals before opening night, Calla said Victoria Perl, who portrays Turtle, has proven herself on the stage. “It's rare to find a 13-year-old who gets up onstage and holds her own against adults. She is super smart and has such poise when she's out there with her peers.”

In recent years, Calla's presence at MLT has been onstage as a performer, being in recent productions of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

He started acting in high school and that led to an interest in directing.

“For 10 years, all I wanted to do was direct, then a couple years ago I wanted to jump back into acting. Work was stressful and acting is a release for me. It's been about two years since I've directed,” the North Versailles Township resident said.

Reflecting on “The Westing Game,” Calla said one character learns a valuable lesson about what can happen when you have nothing but your work and lose touch with family.

“I hope people see the need to hold on to family and things that are important,” Calla said. “If you are a workaholic, it's never too late to get those things back into your life.”

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or cfrazier@tribweb.com.

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