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A delicious combination

| Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005

The Dudley Diamond is missing, and a security guard is dead.

The diamond was stored in the school safe. Through a series of blunders, anyone and everyone could have had the combination to it.

Whodunit?

Those who attend the Highlands Players' "The Great High School Whodunit" mystery dinner theater, in Highlands High School cafeteria Friday and Saturday, can help find out.

The audience will be asked to be students of Dudley High and will intermingle with the cast of strange characters, including a bumbling principal, a designing female vice principal, the consummate coach and several stereotypical students. When two FBI agents show up, who is the real one?

"It is an evening of wholesome entertainment in a venue that is quite popular but nontraditional in the theater," says director and drama teacher Tom Abbott.

Trivia buffs might also enjoy this two-act "all-ages" production, penned by Ohio playwright Eileen Moushey, says Abbott, hinting at the clue hunt. Highlands has staged several of Moushey's mysteries.

The solution plays out in the second act, with dinner for the audience in between.

"It will be fun to see what the audience does," says sophomore Becky Pacek, who plays special agent Amelia Blunt.

This is the final product of the upper level drama classes. All 25 students are involved with the show, either as actors or behind the scenes.

"Anyone who likes theater and food will enjoy it," says junior Ashley Abraham, who plays strict vice principal Bertha Rooper. Anything can happen, she says. "Much of the show is 'unscripted,' eating dinner with the audience, preshow interaction and character establishment."

Abbott says the challenge of this production is breaking down theater's "fourth wall." Patrons are only a few feet away from the actors. "The audience participates and the actors must improv accordingly (a skill taught in lower drama). Maintaining character on and off stage is paramount to success -- so the actors must live the character for the evening," he explains.

Sophomore Ethan Frantz, 15, who portrays a biker student with a bad attitude, likes the opportunity. "You have to think on your feet in audience participation," he says.

Senior Evan Jankowski, who plays the principal, says his goal "is to make the audience think they are really there."

"We keep them guessing," adds sophomore Abby Slater, who describes her character as, "an evil, wealthy woman."

"Everything is not as it seems," says sophomore Hilary Urbanski, who plays Becky Bolton, a secretary who can't spell.

Abbott says people are intrigued with mystery theater, because it allows them to participate in a show.

It is fun for actors and the audience, Abbott says. That's why they annually are so well received, the director says.

The audience this weekend will be asked to become detectives and embark on a clue hunt. Prizes will be awarded to winning audience teams with the correction solutions.

The Players try to offer something different every year. "One year, the audience determined 'whodunit' and, based on their response, a different ending could be played out. The actors had to learn five different ones that year," says Abbott.

Laughter will be some of the best applause, implies sophomore Josh Barch, whose role is Mr. Dudley, whom Barch describes as "chicken, and rather scared of his wife."

Sophomore Jessica Ortman offers more colorful character description. "I play Daphne Dudley, a whiner child of the rich Dudleys," she says.

Sophomore Brittany Shaw says her character, Reston, "is a tough -- and not too smart -- biker chick."

Abbott believes our interest in mysteries is historical. "All the way back in literature, Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie," he says, "people like to think about and try and solve these things. Look at the most popular show, 'CSI.' "

"People who like to solve puzzles will like this," says senior Dennis Miller, who plays coach R.F. Stone.

"It will be interesting to interact with the audience," adds sophomore Mandy Dzugan, who plays Rita, a straight-A student, cheerleader and "suck up". according to Mandy.

It is fun to play someone you're not, says senior Zack Bonatesta. That's a good thing, because he portrays a jewel thief.

"This will be a production to remember," assures senior Chris Miller, the mystery coordinator.

Additional Information:

If you go

What: 'The Great High School Whodunit' mystery dinner theater.

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Where: Highlands Senior High School cafeteria, Natrona Heights, Harrison.

Cost: $10, includes dinner.

Details: 724-226-1000, Ext. 3206. Tickets also available from students.

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