Mystery goes to the circus in Oakmont | TribLIVE.com
Theater & Arts

Mystery goes to the circus in Oakmont

Rex Rutkoski
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Charlene Jacka Photography
The cast of characters include (from left) Dan the Fan (Jim Anderson), Destiny Gesser the Fortune Teller ( Sandra McPherson ), Rhett the Butler (Pastor John Jefferies), Ima De Boss the Ringmaster (Becky Houston).
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Charlene Jacka Photography
Readying for the production are (from left) the lion (Sarah Kelley), Victoria Falls the Tightrope Walker (Rachel Crooks) and Al Runaway the lion tamer (Brian Crooks).
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Charlene Jacka Photography
Rehearsing are (from left) David Silverfield the Magician (Duncan Jones), Ima DeBoss the Ringmaster (Becky Houston), Gussy Stitcher the Costume Mistress (Sherry Lauffer), Ashley Embers the Fire Dancer (Heather Fichte).

Murder — sort of! — is about to celebrate a 25th anniversary in Oakmont.

That’s how many years the good people of the murder mystery dinner shows at United Methodist Church, Oakmont, have been pretend dying to keep the church’s local and far-reaching social outreach programs not only alive but thriving.

The popular plays have raised an estimated $72,000 in that time, one ticket and one dinner at a time.

The circus is coming

This year three performances of “Murder Under the Big Top” will be presented at the church hall, Feb. 22-24.

“In all the years we have never had a circus theme and we thought it would be fun,” says director Donna Jacka, who was joined by other cast members in writing it. “The co-authors have been involved in the plays for years and we all just thought it would be exciting to try our hand at writing and since it was our 25th we wanted it to be special.”

Not having to pay royalties on a purchased script allows more money to go to missions, she adds.

Where it began

The church programs originated to help pay to send two people on a mission trip.

“We are very excited that it has gone on for 25 shows. I don’t think anyone ever thought it would go on this long. But it has grown in popularity,” Jacka says.

Though it can be time consuming, she says everyone involved has fun, it is great fellowship and the money goes to great causes locally and beyond. Those benefiting, among others, have included the Verona Summer Fun Camp, Western Pennsylvania Methodist Camps and Puerto Rico Disaster Relief through the United Methodist Committee on Relief.Where there is a need, the congregation tries to assist.

The storyline

In this production, the little town of Pork Belly is excited to welcome the Big Top Traveling Circus. The audience joins them for opening night.

“They will witness a cast of characters guaranteed to entertain, including a ringmaster, tightrope walker, fire baton twirler, clowns, mimes, lion tamer, strongman and even a bearded lady,” Jacka says. “But it’s not all fun and games when the night turns deadly. People will enjoy a wonderful meal and help our detective solve the mystery. All of our regulars have returned for parts in this year’s play.”

Deborah Ormay happily admits, “I’m a ham. I enjoy being in shows and bringing different characters to life. I like watching the audience enjoy our efforts.” She portrays diva Harriet Gillette who believes she should be the main attraction. “She’s stuck in the side show and her options as a bearded lady are kind of limited. She blames her lack of success on everyone else,” she explains.

Victoria Falls, on the other hand, is star performer of the little circus that will soon visit Oakmont.

“I am the tightrope walker. I specialize in stunning audiences with my skills in balance and my ability to defy gravity,” Rachel Crooks says. “The production last year really helped me feel like a part of the church. I’m thankful for the connections that my participation helped build.”

Little church that could

Veteran cast member Becky Houston says, “I like to think of us as the little church that could.”

“What is most important for me is that the money gets donated to local charities like the summer lunch program in Verona. I really enjoy being able to help them out while having a lot of fun,” she says.

Her character this year is Ima DeBoss, the circus ring leader. “I am constantly trying to get the show moving along and the characters in line. Needless to say, chaos prevails,” Houston says.

Jess Jacka, who is Anna MalTrainer, the animal trainer, finds it fun to come together every year and get to know the people who she sees every week in church in an entirely new way.

Jim Anderson is “Dan the Circus Fan.” “I am a middle-aged man who has always wanted to run away with the circus and realizes this might be his last chance, so he is desperate to prove he can be a circus performer despite a severe lack of talent,” he says. “Each cast member basically agrees that we can’t think of a more fun way to raise monies for causes: We have fun, the audience has fun, others benefit.”

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Categories: AandE | Theater Arts
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