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Oakmont Elks Players promise a challenging 'who-dun-it'

| Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Murder in the Court 1
Judge Jil O’Teen (Dennis Kanouff), Archie Hoochie, the intended victim (Frank Vollero); Chatta Hoochie, the accused (Darla Vollero).
Murder in the Court 1 Judge Jil O’Teen (Dennis Kanouff), Archie Hoochie, the intended victim (Frank Vollero); Chatta Hoochie, the accused (Darla Vollero).

Upper Burrell playwright Marilyn McNally's imagination is on the loose again.

Audiences are about to take a roller coaster ride of slapstick humor as the Elks Players' stage her latest spoof, “‘Murder in the Court,” at their lodge in Oakmont.

The dinner theater murder mystery Oct. 27-28 again benefits Elks charities. It's their ninth production since 2015, all penned and directed by McNally.

Have any of them been a drama or a serious play?

“That won't ever happen,” McNally says. “I write the comedy for the laughter it brings. I always watch the audience to see them laugh because that is so important to me.

“I never thought I had any ability at this, but once I got started, I thought I was pretty funny and when people concurred that kept me going.”

She loves the writing “because my imagination gets free reign,” she says. “I know every character personally and that makes it easier to match one of the actors to it.”

She has a blast in creating intriguing character names, plays on words that get the point across. Exhibit “A” in this show is Sue DeBastards (portrayed by Jan Schlegel of Plum), lawyer for Chatta Hoochey (Darla Vollero of Penn Hills), a woman on trial for the attempted murder of her husband Archie.

The productions are quite satisfying for her and the cast. McNally also has a part as Mary Jane Reefer.

“Our cast is almost always the same and they love doing this. We laugh our way through rehearsals,” she says. “We're all members of the Elks. Since the BPOE was originally started by a group of actors called ‘The Jolly Corks,' we like to think we're keeping their tradition somewhat alive.”

A loyal audience attends the shows.

“Our plays are for adult audiences, with a good sense of humor,” says Schlegel. “The audience will have a good time. Who doesn't like to watch people making fools of themselves just to make people laugh?”

It's an opportunity for the cast to move out of its comfort zone, says Vollero, “and let people see us act silly.”

Debbie Kennelly of Oakmont sees this year's offering as “a little different from our usual presentation,” but is giving no secrets away. She plays Ruby Tungwagger, the neighbor of the plaintiff and defendant.

“She is very nosy and loves nothing better than hearing and relating juicy gossip,” Kennelly says.

“Murder in the Court” is “zany, like the others that our writer and director, Marilyn McNally has written,” says Dennis Kanouff of Plum. He appreciates that her scripts give the actors freedom to be creative.

He plays a woman, the honorable Judge Jil O'Teen, a Judge Judy wannabe. “I've always admired Judge Judy's straight forwardness, I get to tell it like it is,” Kanouff says.

He offers this guarantee: “All will have a good time. Some will actually be pulled into action as a character in the play. Others will be pulled unknowingly into becoming involved on the sidelines.”

He is aware that with mysteries, “people like to figure things out just to prove, ‘I told you so!' or ‘I knew it all along.' ”

That won't be the case, with this show, he promises. “They won't figure this one out,” he says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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