Ho Ho Homicide: Mont Rest & Bellevue, IA

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Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast

Ah, Christmas!  Without question it is my favorite time of the year.  I love the feelings of goodwill, the sense of family, the music, the decorations, going to church, the lights, everything.  I also especially enjoy visiting bed and breakfasts during the holiday season just to see how they ring in the holidays.  So, it is with great pleasure that I bring to you the tale of my 5th annual Christmas B & B review.

For this journey, I would be visiting Iowa’s most luxurious inn, Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast of Bellevue, IA, owned by Christine Zraick.  I had been looking forward to this inn for quite a long time due to its penchant for offering nearly weekly murder mystery events.  When I found out the inn also really enjoys going all out for Christmas, I finally booked the trip.

Mont Rest has a very interesting history.  It was built in 1893 by Seth Luellyn Baker, a wealthy land developer for the price of $6,000.  Nicknamed “The Castle”, Mont Rest soon developed a reputation for illegal high stakes poker games.  His passion for poker would end up biting Baker hard as he once put the deed to Mont Rest up against a doctor for a $6,000 pot.  After the hand, Baker went downstairs and told his wife they had 2 weeks to vacate the property.

Fast forward to 1986, when the property, long since dilapidated and falling to pieces, was purchased by its current owner, Christine Zraick.  She began the long arduous process of refurbishing it back to its Victorian glory and opening it as a country inn.  It soon developed a stellar reputation for its murder mystery parties.

On Dec 24, 1996, the tale of Mont Rest almost came to an end when a devastating fire broke out and gutted the house from top to bottom.  Christine almost threw in the towel, but support from the citizens of Bellevue and her own sense of stewardship compelled her to roll up her sleeves and begin the process of rebuilding Mont Rest in the spring of 1997.

Needless to say, it was a massive success and today Mont Rest stands as Iowa’s most luxurious inn.

I was truly blessed with some unseasonably beautiful weather for my long trek to Bellevue.  When I arrived in town, I was immediately struck by its quaintness.  It is a peaceful town right on the coast of the Mississippi River.

I readily found the inn where my eyes confirmed what the photos had suggested.  This was easily the biggest inn I had ever seen.  The nickname of “The Castle” was well suited as the inn stands alone on top of a large hill and takes up the equivalent of a city block or two and holds an astonishing 13 bedrooms.

As I made the way from my car to the large wraparound porch, I smiled at the visage of Jolly old Saint Nick meeting me on the porch.  The inn was already into the spirit of Christmas as tinsel decorated the porch and decorations were being set up in the front yard.

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The kindly staff warmly welcomed me inside and gave me the nickel tour culminating in a stop at the gift shop which holds a representation of the World’s Fair complete with lights, sound, and animation.

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From there, I was led to Ginny’s Woodlawn View, my base of operations for the next few days.

When I think of B & B rooms, Ginny’s Woodlawn View is what springs to mind.  It has an understated elegance with its soft, blue-green carpet, electric wood fireplace, and Jacuzzi bathtub.  With Christmas on the horizon, it even had a lovely little Christmas tree and a stocking hung by the chimney with care.

From there, I did my normal explorations which took a little longer than normal.  As I said, this mansion is huge.  One could easily get lost in here.  I wandered about the house enjoying the numerous Christmas trees and decorations littered throughout the home.  The inn even has an observation deck on the top of the home which holds a hot tub as well as magnificent views of Bellevue and the Mississippi.

I had very little time to get settled in as I had a heavy night of activities planned.  Within an hour of my arrival, I was already back on the road seeking an early dinner.  I opted for a little good old fashioned comfort food as I stopped at Richman’s Café.

Like the name suggests, it’s a quiet little diner, but it dishes up a mean patty melt and shoestring fries.  Having the cavity filled, I was then off to the nearby town of Dubuque, IA to begin my night’s activities.

As I truly love holiday lighting displays, the staff at Mont Rest told me about Reflections in the Park, an elaborate display showcased at Louis Murphy Park.  This event has been a Christmas tradition for over two decades and I would like to thank the staff at the event for giving me a free pass to experience this tradition.

If you are in or near Dubuque during the holidays, visit Reflections in the Park.  It is a truly beautiful and entrancing display of lights and holiday cheer that will brighten your night both literally and emotionally.

From there, I went to the famed Grand Opera House of Dubuque where I took in a production of It’s a Wonderful Life.  For the first time in years, I attended this play purely as a patron, but was so moved and impressed by the production that I decided to review it anyway.  You can read it here.

After the fabulous show, I returned to Mont Rest when I settled into bed with a bone aching weariness where I instantly succumbed to oblivion.

In the morning, I took a long Jacuzzi bath before heading downstairs to breakfast.  There I met Doug & Pamela and Mark & Holly who would also be joining me for the murder mystery dinner later that night.  Breakfast at Mont Rest is served family style so we all enjoyed dishes of fruit along with a repast of blueberry muffins, cherry turnovers, bacon, hash browns, and 2 kinds of omelets along with some conversation.

Normally I like to schedule a lot of activities to get the full experience of the towns I visit.  This time I decided to put the brakes on.  After breakfast, I simply wrote my play review and organized my photos.  Then I took a very long walk along the riverside where I shared a phone conversation with my best friend and stopped in at Grandpa’s Parlor for a vanilla shake.  From there, I went back to inn, sampled some delicious homemade brownies, and caught a quick nap.

When I regained consciousness, I walked the few blocks to attend worship services at St Joseph’s Catholic Church.  After I got my praise on, I returned to the inn for the mystery.

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St Joseph Catholic Church

I went downstairs to the living room where I once again met Mark and Holly and began sharing conversation.  Shortly later, we were joined by Jim and Elizabeth and by Doug and Pamela a little after that.  As we talked, we were treated to some light hors d’ouevres of canapés, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, crackers, cheese, meats, and veggies.

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Mmm!! Hors d’ouevres.

We would take part in the mystery of Where There’s a Will, There’s Away.  We were assigned characters and told that one of us was a murderer, but that the murderer would be unaware of that fact.  A very intriguing twist on the mystery.

I picked the character of Dr. Benjamin Pike.  He was a very successful doctor who had grown bored with his work.  He had been the personal physician of the wealthy businessman for the past 10 years and was preparing to lead a UNICEF group funded by his friend to teach advanced medical techniques to the locals in South America.  Dr. Pike was connected to two other suspects:  the businessman’s widow, Marion, with whom he had an intense and instant dislike and Nurse Freda Moore with whom he’d had a brief fling.  Freda had taken the break-up quite badly and Pike had fired her hoping to put their relationship in the past by keeping her away.

The inn has costumes for the event and I was dressed in a tuxedo dress shirtt, black dress pants, a black vest, gray cravat, and white dinner jacket.  In my room were waiting my personal dress shoes and socks to complete the illusion.  As I read the dossier, I drew on my theatre background and decided Pike should be an arrogant, sharp tongued jerk, but tempered with a powerful sense of morality.

Once downstairs, we were met by Gloria Gottrocks, the queen of accessorizing, who furthered our outfits.  From Ms Gottrocks, I received a gray fedora, stethoscope, and organ transplant bag.  I don’t want to spoil the mystery, but I will say the key is to use your knowledge of the characters and their relationships to ferret out clues that point to the truth.

But the centerpiece of the event is the dinner.  I’d gladly do this again and again simply for the meal.  Our night began with a dinner salad with a berry vinaigrette dressing and some fluffy, buttery croissant rolls.  During the first course, Officer Ima Fuzz joined us and told us of the death of Arthur and to take our preparation orders.  Amazingly, all of us had ordered the Steak Lilli.

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Officer Ima Fuzz

As we discussed the case, the chef brought out the main course of Steak Lilli, butternut squash, and rice pilaf.  As I began to cut my medium steak, I noted how tender it was.  But after that first bite, I was in heaven.  Hands down, the very best steak I have ever tasted.  During the main course, Officer Fuzz came back with the autopsy report and pieces of evidence found at the scene of the crime and to take orders for dessert.

I opted for Death by Chocolate.  As I savored dessert, Officer Fuzz came back one more time to bring Arthur’s will to his lawyer.  We had the reading of the will, a final discussion, and then Officer Fuzz solved the crime.

It was truly a grand evening.  Once done, I got back into my civvies and shared some conversation with Pamela, Doug, Jim, and Elizabeth before retiring to my room for the evening.

This was the best sleep I had enjoyed in ages.  I rose early to begin writing and went down to breakfast at 9am where I met the usual crowd and we were joined by another couple, Steve & Sheryl.

Today’s meal consisted of fried potatoes (perhaps with some rosemary), a dish of fruit, sausage, and a quiche made of eggs, peppers, and mushrooms.  Again it was another fantastic meal made all the more memorable by great conversation.  Sadly, it all had to come to an end and we had to break up the group to go our separate ways.  This was the best group of people I had met at an inn and I hope to stay in touch and, God willing, I hope our paths cross again.

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Quiche, fried potatoes, sausage.

I had a feeling that this particular outing was going to be something special and my instincts were correct.  Mont Rest Inn is a must see experience and it gets my highest recommendation for a visit. If you want to experience a vintage B & B, then you need to go to Mont Rest. Naomi and Company are wonderful cooks and hostesses.  The inn is comfortable and beautiful.  There’s much to do in the area.  And there is a plethora of dining events to be enjoyed at the inn, though I certainly would recommend your taking part in a murder mystery.  This is an inn that I’m going to make a point of returning to at some point in the future.  They also know how to do Christmas right.

Until the next time, happy travels.

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It’s a Wonderful Play

George Bailey is a good man who has been pushed to his breaking point.  Deciding that the world would be better off without him, George contemplates suicide.  But a kindly angel trying to earn his wings is about to show George the difference one person can make.  This is It’s a Wonderful Life by Phillip Grecian and it is currently playing at the Grand Opera House.

It’s rare, but once in a great while I actually get to attend a show purely as a patron.  However, I was so touched and impressed by this production that I felt compelled to put fingers to keyboard and share its wonderfulness.  This is a terrific show for the holidays and Grecian has written a beautiful script that is full of warmth, sensitivity, strong dialogue, a bit of melancholy, and is so full of hope.  His words are brought to incredible life by a powerhouse cast that maximizes the fullest potential of the script.

Michelle Blanchard deserves the highest, possible praise for her direction of this story.  It is so strong and confident.  She knows exactly where this story is going and knows how to get her cast to that destination.  Every beat is a bullseye.  Every emotional shift is spot on.  Ms Blanchard has coached her cast to superb performances and this cast, without question, projected better than any I have previously heard.

With a cast of excellent actors, it’s very hard to limit myself to just a few choice performances.  But some of the quality performances you will see in this show come from Helen Waldmeier who brings a sweetness and fun to her portrayal of Mary Hatch-Bailey; Trenton Sanchez who ably plays the younger version of George Bailey with his integrity and gentleness; and John Gunther whose rich baritone voice rings with a kindly authority as Joseph, God’s right hand angel.

Stephen Green is all aces as George Bailey.  Green’s Bailey is so full of decency and goodness that you feel better about yourself for having met him.  Green is so, so convincing as a man who has constantly sacrificed his dreams and desires in order to fulfill a greater good.  He also wisely adds just the right touch of sadness to Bailey to show that he often muses about what might have been which makes his joy when he realizes his true value all the more moving.  The only slight difficulty with his performance is that Green seems to suffer from the same issue as Gregory Peck.  He’s so good at being good that his rare moments of anger and frustration seem a pinch off the target.

Robert Armstrong brings a quiet strength to his take on Clarence.  He’s a simple angel second class who has been trying to earn his wings for 200 years.  He’s a good listener and has genuine empathy for people.  Armstrong also gives his Clarence the ability to think fast on his feet as his idea of jumping into the river to get George to save him seems very extemporaneous. He also injects a bit of playfulness into the role with his confrontation with the play’s de facto villain, Mr. Potter.

Danny Fairchild’s Henry Potter is the guy you love to hate.  Fairchild steals his scenes with a Potter who is oily, manipulative, curmudgeonly, and vengeful.  Fairchild is an amazing actor with a grand gift for a turn of the phrase.  His sense of timing was deadly accurate and, son of a gun, he managed to be humorous in his unlikability as well.  It is a well constructed and crowd pleasing performance.

Frank McClain’s sounds were some of the best I’ve heard in a production, especially the twinkling sound effects when Clarence was communicating with Heaven.  Jan LaVacek has made a nearly bare bones set with the bridge over Bedford Falls being the only constant.  I liked the efficiency of his set which could rapidly change into Ma Bailey’s home to the Bailey home to the Bailey Building and Loan to Potter’s office.  Gloria Fitzpatrick’s costumes were so natural and suitable that I thought the cast was wearing their own clothes.

As I earlier stated, this is the perfect show for the holiday season.  It’s sweet.  It’s funny.  It’s hopeful.  It also show us just what great gifts we can be and that we all have the power to be that force for good in the lives of others.  There are only 2 performances left.  Don’t miss out on this touching show.

It’s a Wonderful Life continues at the Grand Opera House until Dec 3.  There is a performance tonight at 7:30pm and tomorrow at 2pm.  For tickets, contact the theatre at 563-588-1305 or visit www.thegrandoperahouse.com.  Tickets cost $20 for adults and $12 for 17 and younger.  The Grand Opera House is located at 135 W 8th St in Dubuque, IA.

OCP Goes to the Wild West with ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

Omaha, Neb.The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, running at the Omaha Community Playhouse February 10 – March 12, 2017 in the Howard Drew Theatre, is a classic western story of good versus bad and the law versus the gun. Made popular by the 1962 film version starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is set in 1890 in the Wild West and tells the tale of a young scholar from New York City who travels west in search of a new life, but arrives badly beaten in the town of Twotrees. After being rescued from the plains, the town soon becomes his home. A local girl gives him purpose, but a fierce outlaw wants him dead. He must make a choice: to turn and run or to stand for what he believes; to live or to fight; whether or not to become the man who shot Liberty Valance.

Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has been named an official event of the Nebraska 150 Celebration, which is a yearlong celebration across the state of Nebraska in 2017 marking the 150th year of statehood. The Sesquicentennial is a strategic initiative that promotes a spirit of pride, growth, engagement and connection within our state by bridging Nebraskans across different communities, perspectives and cultures. For more information, visit https://ne150.org/calendar/man-shot-liberty-valance-play/

Production:        The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Credits:                Book by Jethro Compton; Based on the short story by Dorothy M. Johnson

Director:              Jeff Horger

Cast

Dennis Stessman as Ransome Foster

Sydney Readman as Hallie Jackson

Isaac Reilly as Bert Barricune

Chad Cunningham as Jim Mosten

Christopher Scott as Marshal Johnson

Brennan Thomas as Liberty Valance

Chris Berger as The Narrator

Ensemble roles filled by Aubrey Fleming & Gary Williams

Show Dates:       February 10 – March 12, 2017 (Thurs – Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2pm)

Tickets:                At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or http://www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $36 for adults and $22 for students. Tickets for groups of 12 or more are $24 for adults and $16 for students.

Discounts:           Twilight Tickets – A limited number of tickets are available at half price after noon the day of the performance at the Box Office. Cash or check only. Subject to availability.

Sponsored by:   2016-2017 Pegasus Travel Tours and Cox (media sponsor)

Location:             Howard Drew Theatre | Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass Street Omaha, NE 68132)

 

A Plethora of Auditions for OCP in December

Throughout the month of December, the Omaha Community Playhouse will be holding several auditions for the 2nd half of its season.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Production Dates: January 20-February 12, 2017
Performs in: Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director: Carl Beck

Synopsis: Around the World in 80 Days is a fantastic journey filled with exotic locations and cultures, with comedy and suspense leading the way. Phileas Fogg, an Englishman, and his French manservant, Passepartout, create a strange pairing with their distinct cultural backgrounds. Their journey challenges both Fogg and Passepartout in many ways, but they come out as winners in the end. The two men journey around the world to win a simple wager, but they leave an incredible story about loyalty and friendship in their wake. This production consists of five extremely resourceful actors who bring Jules Verne’s incredible story to life. Making the most of the Playhouse stage, they create all the exotic locales, the international cast of characters and even an elephant!

Audition Dates: Monday, November 21 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, November 22 at 7:00 PM

Character Descriptions:
Note: Actors of all ethnicities are encouraged to audition

PHILEAS FOGG – A wealthy British adventurer.

JEAN PASSEPARTOUT – Fogg’s very clever and resourceful French man servant.

AOUDA – An Indian/European princess who is rescued from death by Fogg.

ACTOR #4 – Plays 11 characters including Detective Fix, a dense, bumbling member of Scotland Yard in hot pursuit of Fogg.

ACTOR #5 – Plays 17 characters from many places all over the world.

ROCK OF AGES
Production Dates: March 3-April 2, 2017
Performs in: Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director: Kimberly Faith Hickman

Synopsis: Set in L.A.’s infamous Sunset Strip in 1987, Rock of Ages tells the story of Drew, a boy from South Detroit, and Sherrie, a small-town girl, both in L.A. to chase their dreams of making it big and falling in love. Nominated for five Tony Awards, this smash-hit musical comedy is an arena-rock-n-roll love story told through the hits of the 1980s like “Sister Christian,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Dead or Alive,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Here I Go Again,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and many more! Rock of Ages takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos and sporting even bigger hair! Contains mischievous behavior, suggestive and adult language and comedic reference to drug usage.

Audition Dates: Monday, December 5 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, December 6 at 7:00 PM

• Please come prepared with 16 bars of music prepared to sing. An accompanist will be provided.

• There will be a dance audition, pleased come dressed ready to move or bring a change of clothes with you. Boots, sandals, flip-flips, slick shoes, etc. should not be worn during the dance audition.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE
Production Dates: February 10-March 12, 2017
Performs in: Howard Drew Theatre
Director: Jeff Horger

Synopsis: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a dramatic play set in the 1890s American West. It contains all the staples of a cinematic western, including a rustic saloon, a stranger in a small town, and familiar characters with wide brimmed hats and guns on their hips. It tells the story of a scholar from New York City whose journey west in search of a new life is side-tracked when he is beaten and left for dead outside the small town of Two Trees, where he must decide whether or not to face his attacker when he returns. It tells the story of a young woman whose routine attempts to carve out a place for herself in society is interrupted by the appearance of an intriguing stranger. It tells the story of a deadly gunslinger who wants nothing more than to stay away from the violence that he knows is coming. It tells the story of a man who makes a living instilling fear in and inflicting pain on others, never dreaming that anyone would ever stand up to him or challenge his reign of terror. Notes about the play: This production is not a send-up or parody of the western genre. The characters are grounded in reality. They are Midwesterners, and require no accents or dialects. This production features stage combat, gunplay, mild language, music, singing, and passages from Shakespeare and The Bible.

Audition Dates: Monday, December 12 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, December 13 at 7:00 PM

Character Descriptions:
RANSOME FOSTER (Mid 20s to Late 30s, male, any ethnicity) – A fish out of water. He is educated but not worldly. He is eager to embrace the culture of the American West, but lacks the survival skills necessary to navigate it.

HALLIE JACKSON (Early 20s to Mid 30s, female, any ethnicity) – The proprietor of the Prairie Belle saloon. She enjoys her independent status in a male-dominated society. Her heart is open to love, but marriage is not a priority.

BERT BARRICUNE (Late 20s to Early 40s, male, any ethnicity) – A struggling rancher, and the toughest man in town. He is an accomplished gunslinger, but not a natural protector of the innocent. Over the years his respect for Hallie has turned into desire.

JIM MOSTEN (Early 20s to Mid 30s, male, black) – Hallie’s sole employee at the Prairie Belle. Although he is uneducated, he is far from simple and eager to learn more about the world. He is loyal, sweet, and very pleasant company. He enjoys singing and reciting scripture.

MARSHAL JOHNSON (Mid 30s to Mid 60s, male, any ethnicity) – The local authority in Two Trees. He may have been the face of justice back in the day, but time has taken its toll and he is no longer a beacon of law and order. He might be corrupt. He might be a coward. He might be a drunk. Then again…he might not be.

LIBERTY VALANCE (Late 20s to Mid 40s, male, caucasian) – A man who operates outside of the law. He lives off the suffering of others. He has no moral compass. He gambles and kills for profit and for pleasure.

ENSEMBLE (3-6 males and 1-3 females, any ethnicity) – Minor roles. Some non-speaking. Some singing.

• For all 3 shows, you will be asked to fill out an audition form, please have all necessary contact information and personal schedules handy in order to complete the form.

• To expedite the check in process – please bring a recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.