The Adventure of the Nameless Corpse

Lovely little nutcracker, isn’t it?  Well, this nutcracker has a very interesting story behind it.  This nutcracker is both a trophy and a reminder of the time I assisted Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in solving a murder at the Victorian Villa in Union City, MI.

I had alluded to this story when I wrote my remembrance of the inn back in 2014, but enough time has passed that it is now safe to share the tale.  Some elements must still remain hidden, so some names may be changed and some details removed and altered, but those that know the truth will understand.

Many believe Holmes and Watson to be fictional characters, but that is a myth perpetuated by Dr. Watson’s literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who published Dr. Watson’s stories under his name.  In truth, they are real and much older than one would believe. 

In his retirement, Holmes had cultivated a royal jelly elixir and ingestion of it had greatly extended his life span and that of Dr. Watson.  Over the years Holmes and Watson had regularly visited the Victorian Villa as its owner, Ron Gibson, is the great-grandson of Senator Neil Gibson referenced in the case known as “The Problem of Thor Bridge”.  Aside from their friendship, Holmes also enjoyed visiting Union City as, in his own words, “it is a hellhole of crime of great depth and brilliance”.

When I learned that Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson would be visiting, I immediately booked a weekend stay to meet the famed detective and his trusted associate.

It was September of 2005 and I was making my second foray out to the Villa.  I was a bit weary as I had mistakenly forgotten to schedule myself as unavailable for Hamlet rehearsals the night before so I had put in a long night of rehearsing before setting off on my drive at 10pm.  By midnight, I was exhausted and collapsed at a Motel 6 in Des Moines, IA before driving another 8 hours to Union City the next morning.  The welcome sight of the gorgeous Victorian mansion served as a salve to my spirits and boosted my energy level as I pulled into the tiny parking lot.

The Victorian Villa

Once more, I was greeted by Ron and his two sons, Zach and Josh, before being led to my room for the weekend:  the Victorian Country Bedchamber.  As I got myself situated, I found a note under my pillow.  It was rather snarky and, I noted, written in a feminine hand.  I put it away before freshening up and reacquainting myself with the Villa.

Around 6pm, Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson arrived at the inn.  I introduced myself to Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson who politely shook my hand.  Holmes was just as Watson had described him with his aloofness and unmistakable air of authority.  Watson was friendly and every bit the gentleman.

I retired to the parlor with Holmes and Watson and the other guests who had come to meet the legendary duo.  Among them were Ted and Rhonda Cowell and their Holmesian scion society, The Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay; the Mallon family; George Ault; and Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Harbaugh.

We opened up the night with a round of Sherlockian Trivial Pursuit.  We formed into two teams and Mr. Holmes asked diabolically difficult questions relating to the many cases he had investigated.  As the two teams battled back and forth, Mr. Holmes would vacillate between contentedly smoking his pipe and brooding about some vexing problem.  On several occasions he alluded to a case he was working on before returning to the game.

Sherlock Holmes relaxes

By the end of the game, the two teams were locked into a tie, though I ended up stealing a symbolic victory for my side when I answered the question “Who killed Victor Savage?”  After the hard-fought game, we entered the dining room where Mr. Holmes gave us a demonstration on the art of observation and deduction while we dined on one of Ron’s fine meals which consisted of English Cheshire Cheese Soup and roasted loin of boar among other delicacies.  I did note that Ron had brought on some help for the event as a placard on the table said the meal had been partially catered by Maxine Simons.

Upon finishing our meal, we returned to the parlor where Mr. Holmes told us he was investigating a murder that had taken place at the Villa a few days prior.  A man had shown up at the Villa around 11am on the fateful day and asked Ron if he could have a room.  As Ron had no reservations, he rented a room to the man who gave no name, but simply went upstairs to his bedroom with his dressing bag.  A short while later, Ron saw him descend the stairs sans bag and enter the parlor.  Ron left him to his own devices as he had to leave the Villa to run some errands.  When he returned later, he found the man collapsed on the floor, arm outstretched in front of him, and clearly dead.  Ron contacted the police who found no identification on the man nor in his room.  The labels on his clothes had been cut off and the only items found on him were a handkerchief, some cigarettes, and a pen.  Ron had told Mr. Holmes of the baffling death and he agreed to look into it.

Mr. Holmes wanted us to be his eyes and ears and help him investigate.  He asked us to discover the following:

  1. Who was the victim?
  2. How was he killed?
  3. Who killed him?
  4. Find a way to link the killer to the crime and unmask him or her.

Certain rules were set in place for us.  As Mr. Holmes had already investigated the private areas of the mansion, we were not to enter them.  He also told us not to snoop into Ron’s desk as only he would be allowed to investigate it.  Short of that we were free to investigate as we chose. If we managed to discover any evidence, we were only to hold onto it for 10 minutes before returning it exactly where it was found.  Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson bade us good evening and left the Villa promising to return after breakfast in the morning.

Exhaustion had found me again so I retired to my bedroom, vowing to rise early and begin looking into the case.

I arose the next morning feeling refreshed.  After heading to the dining room and enjoying some of Ron’s special scrambled eggs and sausage patties, I began to look into the case. 

From re-reading Ron’s statement, I realized that the victim had not carried his dressing bag back down with him so I immediately went to the second floor and began searching for it, but was unable to find it.  I searched the mansion from top to bottom and then made my way over to the Carriage House.  Up in the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber, I discovered George Ault and Glenn Harbaugh discussing something and they froze when they saw me.  I asked if I could enter and Glenn said I could.  I quietly closed the door and noted they had the dressing bag.

“So you found it,” I said.

Realizing I had already deduced the clue, George and Glenn opened the bag and we all looked into it.  Among the toiletries, we found a letter addressed to James Fitzsimmons requesting a meeting in the parlor of the Villa to discuss the matter of a deadly toxin that had been developed by the writer of the letter.  Apparently Fitzsimmons had been the letter writer’s boss and had aspirations of selling the toxin to the highest bidder who would likely weaponize it.  The toxin caused almost instantaneous paralysis before shutting down the body’s vital organs.  Death would occur in a matter of minutes.  The writer wanted Fitzsimmons to destroy the toxin and begged for a meeting to convince him of this.  It was simply signed Max, though I recognized the handwriting as being the same as that on the note in my bedroom.

After examining the evidence, I asked the two men if they had found notes as well.  They admitted they had and let me read them.  Red herrings and smart alecky comments.  After reading this, we looked at each other and I suggested pooling our resources to which George and Glenn readily agreed.

“All right, we’re now a team,” I said.

Upon forming our alliance we headed down to the parlor to meet Mr. Holmes who asked if anybody had anything to share.  I casually blurted the bag clue to which Mr. Holmes looked at me and said, “You’re a rather blithe young man, aren’t you?”

After unintentionally giving out the clue, the race was on.  Though we were investigating a crime, it was treated more like a competition and ended up as a three way battle between The Stormy Petrels, the Mallons, and my little triumvirate.  The Petrels played for keeps and were not above providing a few red herrings.  The Mallons were smart and crafty, though I engaged in a little quid pro quo with Mrs. Mallon which I’ll get to in a bit.

Mr. Holmes was always available for private consultation where we could bring our discoveries and theories and he would make comments and subtle suggestions to help light our path.  When we first informed Holmes about the letter we found, Glenn kept referring to the writer as a he, to which Mr. Holmes asked, “Why do you keep saying ‘he?’”.

“What do mean?” asked Glenn.

“He means how do we know it’s a man,” I replied.

“Precisely,” said Holmes as he clasped my shoulder.

A vital clue, indeed.  While not a guarantee, we did have to open our minds to the possibility that Max, if that was the real name, was a woman.

We continued to investigate.  I realized that no matches or lighter were found on the corpse, though cigarettes had been discovered.  No smoker would ever lack those items and there was no reason for the killer to take them.  Remembering the outstretched arm, I assumed the position of the corpse and found a book of matches under the coal scuttle.

Taking them, I opened up the packet and found a scrawled message which said “Beware TR-70”.  The name of the toxin had been found!!

Outside the parlor, I found a business card book on a stand and began thumbing through it and saw Mrs. Mallon watching me.  When I leafed to the third page, she suddenly coughed.  I looked up and saw her smiling at me, I took a hard look and found the business card for Maxine Simons—Caterer.  However, “caterer” had been written in pen over a blacked out word.  Reversing the card and holding it up to the light, I saw “chemist” written under it.  I had the name of the killer!!  I then shared with Mrs. Mallon the name of the poison out of gratitude.

My team had another consultation with Holmes where Glenn spun an amusing, but outlandish, theory that Ron Gibson was the killer or, at least involved with her.  Mr. Holmes and I shared some glances and after Glenn finished his theory, Holmes simply stated, “I sense you have some misgivings about his theory.”

“One or two,” I replied.

I then finally had a chance to fill in Glenn and George on my discoveries and had a private conversation with Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Mallon while I made my deductions.  When I finished, Mr. Holmes looked to Mrs. Mallon and said, “You know, I have great faith in this young man.  He’s quiet, thoughtful, and observant and everything he says is based soundly on logic.”

Then we took a break and had a reading of one of Watson’s stories followed by a pop quiz.  I ended up winning the quiz contest and surprised Mr. Holmes with one of my answers.

“This number is the square root of the number alluded to by Watson,” said Holmes.

“Sixteen,” I readily answered.

“Sixteen is correct!!” said Holmes with some wonderment.  “Tell me, young man, how did you come up with that answer?”

“Watson mentioned the wait was like the night the two of you faced the Andaman Islander which was a reference to the case known as The Sign of Four,” I said.

Holmes smiled and nodded approvingly.

After the quiz we had afternoon tea where Ron had prepared a whole turkey and we helped ourselves to little sandwiches with a bit of homemade mustard and fixings.

The case was solved, but there was still one last item:  how to unmask Maxine.  There was no real proof tying her to the death and all my deductions wouldn’t hold water in court.  I had a final consultation with Holmes where I told him everything I had learned, but felt I was just one step away from the total truth. 

“Think of the problem of the three Moriartys.  All of them were named James and were identical.  How would one tell them apart?” said Mr. Holmes.

I began to see the light when he gave me one final nudge.

“You have two pieces of vital evidence.  What you need is a third.”

The truth hit me like a thunderbolt.  The letter on my pillow plus the letter in the bag were my pieces of evidence.  What I needed was a way to get a third example of Maxine’s handwriting to connect her with the other two.  Handwriting was how you’d distinguish the Moriarty boys from each other.

Piecing the puzzle together

I expressed this problem to Glenn and George and we threw around ideas until I said, “Maybe we could get a card of some sort.”

“My son is serving over in Iraq.  We could get him a Wish You Were Here card,” said George.

“Yes, and we’ll have everybody in the inn sign it!!” I exclaimed.

The three of us dashed to Mr. Holmes where I laid out the scheme.

“An excellent plan,” said Holmes. 

I shook hands with Holmes and Watson and dashed to the bar area where I found Ron.

“Is there a drug store nearby?” I asked.

“Yes, just a few blocks up on Main Street,” said Ron.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then I speed walked through the front door and vaulted over the steps to the sidewalk.  I then sprinted and I do mean SPRINTED to the drug store where I bought the card and repeated the process back to the Villa where I hurdled the steps once more.  George later said it was the funniest thing he ever saw.

As I walked back in, I heard Mrs. Mallon’s daughter ask if there were a drug store nearby.  I then politely coughed and gently waved the card.  Knowing that the game was up, the Mallons signed the card and Mrs. Mallon’s daughter assisted me with finishing the job by asking Ron if there were any other people in the kitchen as Maxine was also helping to cater tonight’s dinner.  Ron stepped into the kitchen and asked Maxine to step out.  I told her about the card while George showed a picture of his son and Maxine signed the card.

I then led my team back to the parlor where the other guests had gathered. 

“Do you have something to show me, young man?” asked Mr. Holmes.

I presented the card to him and he looked at it.

“Were there any witnesses?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.   Myself, (Mrs. Mallon’s daughter), George, Ron, Zach, and Josh all witnessed this.”

“Very good,” said Mr. Holmes.  “This case has been solved.”

Then we proceeded to have a debate about what to do with the killer.  Her motivations were understandable.  Fitzsimmons would have unleashed a plague of death on the world.  He had committed no crime, but would have had the blood of countless people had he sold the toxin.  Maxine shouldn’t have killed him, but her act had thwarted a much greater evil so I pled for leniency.  Holmes said he would consider the situation.

Glenn gave me a hug and then bought George and myself a drink at the bar.  Mr. Holmes approached me privately and asked me to present the denouement after dinner.

A splendid dinner was served and after we were all satiated, Mr. Holmes signaled for silence, indicated my two partners and then clasped my shoulder acknowledging our victory.  He then presented me with the nutcracker as a trophy for the case.  Then he brought Ron, his two sons, and Maxine into the dining room where I presented my findings.

I walked the group through the maze of the case, casually keeping an eye on Maxine who whitened with every revelation.  When I explained about the card we had purchased and how the killer had sealed her fate by signing it, I calmly looked at Maxine and said, “Isn’t that right, Maxine?”

At that point, Maxine begged for mercy and Holmes gently led her out of the dining room while discussion resumed.  Shortly afterwards, he returned and he and Watson made their final farewells and exited.

And that was how I helped Mr. Holmes solve The Adventure of the Nameless Corpse.  I would later learn that Holmes did show mercy to Maxine, letting her leave the country.  George did send the card to his son with an incredible story.  I had made new friends and had a reminder of the case forever gracing my mantle.  And the next morning, I enjoyed some of Ron’s incredible cream cheese stuffed French Toast.

Little did I know that I would return to the Villa a few years later with my trusted friend, Mat O’Donnell, to engage in a peculiar investigation centering around a crying woman.

But that is a story for another time.

D.O.A.

A gathering at the home of the Bennetts results in a murder and nobody is above suspicion.  Find out who done it in Death by Design which is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

This show has two things working against it.  The first is the pandemic.  Due to the surge in infections, the actors masked up for the performance which robbed them of their ability to use facial expressions.  The second is the script itself.

Not only is the story pretty weak with a lack of build, poor motivations for the murder, and an unsatisfactory denouement, but I think writing it in the vein of a 1930s sitting room drama hampered it even further.

Sitting room plays are exceedingly hard sells because the dialogue drives everything.  If the dialogue is sharp enough and the cast talented enough, it can be done.  Unfortunately, the dialogue of this show’s first act had all the snap, crackle, and pop of a soggy bowl of Rice Krispies.  Act II was a bit better as it focused on the investigation which made it a tad more gripping.

This story and lack of expressions would have buried a lesser cast, but it’s a tribute to the strength and talent of this show’s cast and director that they pulled out what they did given the circumstances.  Through the use of gestures and vocal animation, they managed to overcome the limitations of the masks.  They also managed to have colorful characters and inject a few jump scares which helped to make the tepid tale more palatable.

Jon Flower’s direction got everything it could out of this story.  He staged the show brilliantly.  The actors were always well placed as I could see all of them at any point and watch their reactions to the events bubbling around them.  I was also especially impressed with the murder scene at the end of Act I.  Easily the show’s best scene, it was chock full of tension as every suspect loomed over the body of the victim in almost total darkness masking the murderer and method of death.  Flower also led his cast to solid performances with nary a weak link among them.  That being said, accents were a bit of a mixed bag and some actors really needed to tighten the cue pickups.

This is truly an ensemble piece and each actor more than held up her or his end of the bargain.  Bill Bossman makes a fine Omaha debut as an arrogant hypocrite who hides his own moral shortcomings under a façade of moral superiority.  Nicki Sitler projects the needed vanity and vapidness of an ingenue actress.  Devon Moore is a suitable everyman as the chauffeur, Jack.  Adam Kerr has the youthful energy needed for an advocate for the workingman.  Charity Williams is a delightful, blubbering mess as the young mistress of Bossman’s Walter Pearce looking to escape from him once and for all.

Sarah Ebke is a delight as the maid, Bridgit.  Clearly the show’s smartest character, Ebke’s Bridgit actually becomes the show’s detective character and it’s well foreshadowed as Bridgit silently observes the shenanigans of the other characters as she tidies up the home, putting her in the ideal spot to unmask the killer.  Ebke is sharp and clever in the role and her energy really drove the show’s second act.

Chris Ebke does sterling work as Edward Bennett.  He utilizes a flawless British accent and has a slightly snooty, upper-class attitude and his “polite” sparring with his vain actress wife provided some needed levity in the show.  I also liked the ambiguous malevolence he gave the character.  From his first appearance, it’s clear he has ill intent for somebody, but who the identity of that somebody is the real question.

God bless Connie Lee.  Her appearance as Victoria Van Roth in latter half of Act I helped kick it out of the doldrums.  She definitely got the show’s most interesting character as her Van Roth lives in some outlier of reality where she translates her feelings into interpretive dance.  Lee masks her talent as a dancer with a series of ludicrous gyrations that made her look like an Egyptian hieroglyphic on crack, though her movements still had an ugly grace about them.

The show’s technical elements were outstanding.  Joey Lorincz continues to show why he’s one of the city’s best scenic designers with the elegant living room of the Bennetts with its striped walls and glass doors.  His lights were also of top quality, especially in the crucial murder scene where he left just enough light to see the silhouetted bodies of the actors.  Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes well suited the period with the traditional working gear of the maid and chauffeur to the lovely gown worn by Sorel Bennett to the dapper evening wear of the gentleman and the elegant, almost mystic wear of Lee’s Van Roth.

Though the story may try to pull them down, this cast and crew managed to pull it up to a higher level in spite of itself and I salute them for their efforts.

Death by Design plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 5.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $20 and can be reserved at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or by calling 402-291-1554.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

BLT Needs Some People to Help Design Some Death

Bellevue Little Theatre Proudly Announces Auditions for:

Death by Design by Rob Urbinati

Audition Dates: Nov 14-15 starting at 7pm at Bellevue Little Theatre (203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE)

Production runs January 14-30, 2022

Read Thru November 22

Masks will be required for all.

Proof of vaccination will be required upon casting.Production is in need of adult actors of any gender or ethnicity. BIPOC are especially encouraged to audition. Please plan to attend one evening. You do not need to prepare anything. Please dress in comfortable clothing. The audition will consist of readings from the script (no prior experience is necessary). (Ages 18+)

​Director- Jon Flower
Stage Manager- Brian Callaghan
Costumer- Todd Uhrmacher
Tech Director- Joey Lorincz​

About the Play:
What happens when you mix the brilliant wit of Noël Coward with the intricate plotting of Agatha Christie? Set during a weekend in an English country manor in 1932, Death by Design is a delightful and mysterious “mash-up” of two of the greatest English writers of all time. Edward Bennett, a playwright, and his wife, Sorel Bennett, an actress, flee London and head to Cookham after a disastrous opening night. But various guests arrive unexpectedly – a conservative politician, a fiery socialist, a nearsighted ingénue, a zany modern dancer – each with a long-held secret. When one of the guests is murdered, it’s left to Bridgit, the feisty Irish maid with a macabre interest in homicide, to solve the crime. Death by Design is more than homage – it’s a new classic.

General Role Overview:
4m, 4w **various dialect work required for every role**
BRIDGIT – the maid; Irish, crabby, warm-hearted, fifties
JACK – the chauffer; Cockney, charming, clever, twenties
EDWARD BENNETT – the playwright; urbane, vain, thirties/forties
SOREL BENNETT – the actress; glamorous, daffy, thirties/forties
WALTER PEARCE – the politician; stiff, conservative, thirties/forties
ERIC – the radical; emphatic, fiery, twenties
VICTORIA VAN ROTH – the Bohemian; intense, artistic, any age
ALICE – the visitor; sweet, shy, twenties

Bellevue Little Theatre does not discriminate against any person regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Auditions are open to all. Actors of all backgrounds and experience levels are encouraged to audition!

The Tracks of Death

A murderer is lurking aboard the famed Orient Express.  Unfortunately for the fiend, the world’s greatest detective is also riding the train.  Will Hercule Poirot be able to solve the baffling killing of a shady businessman?  Find out in Murder on the Orient Express currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

As I stated in a previous review of this production, I’m not going to delve into plot details as I want the audience to experience the story fresh so they get maximum enjoyment out of it.  However, I can say that Ken Ludwig does an admirable job adapting Agatha Christie’s classic novel.  Ludwig stays fairly close to the source material though he does eliminate several characters which is a salient plot point and clue in the novel, but works around it pretty well.  Though known for farce, Ludwig plays this show pretty straight, yet manages to work a little humor into the story with his vaunted wordplay.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek’s direction is, on the whole, very accurate and precise.  He cuts a brutally brisk pace which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as Poirot peels back the layers of the case.  His staging is spot on, making us feel the enclosed nature of the train and always well placing his performers so you can see their reactions to the goings-on at any given moment.  Clark-Kaczmarek also proves adept at pulling out some truly masterful performances from his thespians.  That being said, it also seemed like he tried to force a little comedy into the production as several of his actors were a little over the top which made them feel like caricatures instead of characters and didn’t always gel with the more grounded performances.

Some of the highlights of the night were Brennan Thomas who is a pretty mean S.O.B. as the murder victim, Samuel Ratchett.  Olivia Howard gives a beautiful, underplayed performance as the governess, Mary Debenham.  Ethan Dragon gives a master class in animation as the affable, and theatrical, Monsieur Bouc.

Connie Lee dominates her scenes as the obnoxious Helen Hubbard.  When Hubbard starts talking, one starts looking for her off switch as she never shuts up and has a grating personality that would even rub Mr. Rogers the wrong way.  Whether she’s frustrating passengers with late night singing and dancing or flirting with the conductor in an attempt to nab a new husband, Lee simply lights up the stage with her effervescent presence.

Daena Schweiger displays a superior dry wit as Princess Dragomiroff.  Seldom have I seen such potent hilarity come from such monotone delivery.  Schweiger knows just what words to emphasize or phrasing to utilize to get the fullest effect from Dragomiroff’s lines and her verbal sparring with Lee’s Hubbard was one of the show’s shining moments.

Seth Maisel wows in his Playhouse debut with a superb turn as Hercule Poirot.  Maisel easily conveys Poirot’s uber fastidious (bordering on OCD) personality with his hyper attention to details and the wiping of his hands after shaking with an old friend.  He also well communicates his genius with his rapid-fire deductions and ability to see through red herrings.  Maisel also brought a fantastic intensity to the role which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Maisel’s Poirot kowtows to nobody and has a highly developed sense of justice which is put to the test when that sense of justice is challenged by his dedication to the law.  His realization that, for once, justice and the law may not be one and the same leads to a haunting monologue excellently and subtly delivered by Maisel.

Justin Payne’s score had me ready for a night of mystery with its relentless eeriness.  Jim Othuse surpassed himself with this set as the Orient Express became another character with its luxurious sleeping compartments, elegant dining room, and imposing edifice during a scene done on the back of the train.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes were right on the money with the elegant suit of the impeccably dressed Poirot, the doughty dress of the uber religious Greta Ohlsson, or the spiffy uniform of Michel, the conductor highlighting some of her costuming prowess.  John Gibilisco and Tim Burkhart impressed with their sounds whether it be a gunshot, a chugging and braking train, or the flashback effect used on voices during the denouement.

The show will assuredly hold your attention and perhaps even have you white knuckling your armrests at points.  With its blitzkrieg pace, strong writing, assured direction, and solid performances, Murder on the Orient Express does provide a gripping night of mystery.

Murder on the Orient Express runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 10.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $25 with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Murder Most Foul Coming to OCP

Seth Maisel stars as Hercule Poirot in “Murder on the Orient Express”

Omaha, NE– The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express will open Friday, September 17, 2021. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre through October 10 with performances Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets are on sale now starting at $25 with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

SYNOPSIS

A thrilling whodunit set aboard the world’s most famous luxury locomotive, Murder on the Orient Express will keep you guessing until the very end. When the Orient Express becomes stranded by a snowstorm, a passenger is found stabbed to death in his private room. With the murderer still on board, a detective must solve the crime before the train reaches its destination.

Directed By: Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek

Cast

Seth Maisel as Hercule Poirot
Brennan Thomas as Samuel Ratchett
Daena Schweiger as Princess Dragomiroff
Connie Lee as Helen Hubbard
Roz Parr as Greta Ohlsson
Billy Ferguson as James Arbuthnot
Jennifer Gilg as Countess Andrenyi
Olivia Howard as Mary Debenham
Brian Priesman as Hector Macqueen
Ethan Dragon as Monsieur Bouc
Jay Srygley as Michel, the Conductor
Adam Bassing as Head Waiter

OCP Needs Some Passengers for the Locomotive of Death

Omaha, NE.–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) is holding auditions for the upcoming production of Murder on the Orient Express on Saturday, July 10 at 10:30 a.m. at Revive! Center Omaha, Sunday, July 11 at 1 p.m. at OCP and Monday, July 12 at 1 p.m. at OCP.

Through upholding high ethical standards, demonstrating respect for all and consciously working to provide diverse representation, OCP is committed to creating an inclusive and safe environment in which all community members feel a sense of belonging, and does not discriminate in casting practices on the basis of an individual’s ethnicity, age, gender, physical and cognitive ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, country of origin or other factors. Omaha Community Playhouse is committed to diverse and inclusive casting.

Production: Murder on the Orient Express

Adapted by: Ken Ludwig

Director: Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek

Show Dates: Sept. 17 – Oct. 10, 2021

Omaha Community Playhouse, Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Performances are Wednesdays – Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre. Actors are called to the theatre one hour before curtain.

Rehearsals: Begin August 1, 2021

Show Synopsis: A thrilling whodunit set aboard the world’s most famous luxury locomotive, Murder on the Orient Express will keep you guessing until the very end. When the Orient Express becomes stranded by a snowstorm, a passenger is found stabbed to death in his private room. With the murderer still on board, a detective must solve the crime before the train reaches its destination.

Roles: Hercule Poirot – Male identifying, all ethnicities: A famous Belgian

Monsieur Bouc – Male identifying, all ethnicities: A Belgian man

Mary Debenham – Female identifying, all ethnicities: A governess

Hector MacQueen – Male identifying, all ethnicities: Rachett’s personal secretary

Michel and Conductor/Marcel – Male identifying, all ethnicities: one actor will play two roles

Princess Dragomiroff – Female identifying, all ethnicities: A Russian dowager

Greta Ohlsson – Female identifying, all ethnicities: Princess Dragomiroff’s traveling companion

Countess Andrenyi – Female identifying, all ethnicities: A countess through marriage

Helen Hubbard – Female indentifying, all ethnicities: an outspoken and flamboyant American from the Midwest

Colonel Arbutnot – Male identifying, all ethnicities: Scotsman

Samuel Rachett – Male identifying, all ethnicities: middle aged American businessman

Auditions: Those who wish to audition may choose one of the following three audition dates:

§ Saturday, July 10, 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Revive Center Omaha, 2402 Lizzie Robinson Ave. (24th & Lake), Omaha, NE. 68111

§ Sunday, July 11, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE 68132

§ Monday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE 68132

Callbacks: Monday, July 19, 7:00 p.m.

Notes: Auditions are by appointment only. Please contact Becky Deiber at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com to schedule an audition appointment and request audition paperwork and sides.

Those auditioning will be asked to read from the script provided at auditions.

When arriving to audition at the Playhouse, please enter through the Stage Door entrance on the West side of the building.

Please Bring: All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts with which to fill out an audition form. To expedite the check-in process, please bring a recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.

COVID-19 In accordance with the CDC, if an individual is not vaccinated, they must wear a face mask. If

Protocols: an individual is vaccinated, they can decide whether to wear a face mask or not. All performers are required to be fully vaccinated. Proof of vaccination will be required upon casting.

Contact: For more information, contact Becky Deiber at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com or (402) 553-4890.

The Best Laid Schemes

Tony Wendice has plotted the perfect murder.  His meticulous plan will allow him to gain revenge on his wife for cuckolding him and continue to live off her wealth with nothing to connect him to her death.  But he is about to learn that the best laid schemes gang aft agley.  This is Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott and is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

I was actually very disappointed by Knott’s script.  The general idea is a massive winner, but the construction of his script actually dilutes the idea.  Knott takes way too long to get where he’s going as the first act is nothing but exposition to set up the story and the murder.  Things heat up nicely in the second act with the actual commission of the crime and the fallout thereof, but the third act takes a nose dive with a somewhat unsatisfying denouement as Knott couldn’t decide whether to let the police inspector or the talented amateur have the credit for unraveling the case.

Todd Uhrmacher’s direction does an admirable job of getting the most out of the script.  He emphasizes the script’s strengths and buoys up its shortcomings, especially in the uber talky first act as his actors were constantly animated which helped maintain interest through the heaps of dialogue.  He has some delightfully tense moments in the second act, but I thought there was room for the tension to be ratcheted up a bit more at key points.  The show is nicely staged and Joey Lorincz’s beautiful luxury apartment lends itself well to creepy moments with its numerous hiding places.

Laureen Pickle is very credible as Margot Wendice.  Her Margot is a good person who made a poor choice when she had her affair, though the script implies she was driven to it by her husband’s callous behavior.  Her regret and penitence are genuine and her near catatonia in the third act is spot on.  I do think she had the space to be a bit more hysterical in the immediate aftermath of the murder scene.

Jonathan Berger has set a very solid foundation in his interpretation of Tony Wendice.  He brings a real intelligence to the character and oozes a slimy charm.  I also admired his pantomime as he tampered with the scene of the crime.  Now he just needs to take what he’s doing and amplify it by a few degrees.  He seemed a little too controlled and there was a great deal of fun for him to have with his reactions and fast thinking when Wendice’s plan begins to go off the rails.

Gene Hinkle is clever as Max Halliday.  Hinkle brings a real decency to the TV writer who also regrets the affair with Margot and wants to confess it to Tony so they can have a clean slate.  I also liked his facility for deduction as he begins to piece together the truth of the sordid affair, though I would’ve liked to see him really dig the needle into Tony in the third act as his pointed questions show that he nearly has the puzzle sussed out. 

I think I caught the show on an off night as it felt more like a rehearsal.  Energy was down.  Cue pickups were lax.  Volume was too soft at a few moments. There were some line struggles and there was stiff acting at certain points.  The murder scene also needed a massive dose of intensity to help its believability.  The foundation of the show is assuredly there, it just needed more oomph.

Along with his always superb sets, Joey Lorincz’s lighting was a tremendous asset to this show, especially the use of darkness and shadow during the show’s most intense moments.  Todd Uhrmacher has also well costumed his performers from the elegant suits of the two leading men to the pretty dresses of Pickle’s Margot.

The story is a bit meh, but Uhrmacher’s capable direction combined with some more juice from the performers can make the show a perfectly adequate thriller.

Dial M for Murder plays at the Bellevue Little Theatre through Mar 21.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 ($18 for seniors, $10 for students) and reservations can be made at http://bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com/reservations.html.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

OCP Needs Some Sleuths to Solve a Murder

Omaha Community Playhouse Announces Auditions for:

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express
Adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig


Directed by Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek


Production Dates: Feb. 26–March 21, 2021 | Hawks Mainstage
Rehearsals: Begin Jan. 17, 2021

In-Person, by appointment only Auditions
Sunday, Nov. 29 | 2 p.m. in Dance Studio at OCP (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

To schedule an audition time and to receive paperwork, email Becky Deiber at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com

Enter through the Stage Door on the West side of the building. For those auditioning in person: Temperatures of auditioners will be taken upon arrival. Auditioners will be required to wear a facemask. Auditions will be held individually. Callbacks may include small groups. Provided seating will be plastic or metal chairs only, no fabric upholstery. The audition space will be appropriately sanitized. When arriving to audition, please enter through the Stage Door entrance on the West side of the building.

Virtual Auditions via Zoom
Monday, Nov. 30 | 6 p.m.
—Email Becky Deiber at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com to schedule a virtual audition via Zoom. Video Submission Auditions being accepted now through Nov 29. You can also submit a vocal audition video to Becky Deiber.


BLT Wants You to Take Part in a Murder

Bellevue Little Theatre presents
Murder on the Orient Express Auditions

Sunday, November 3 @ 7:00 pm
Monday, November 4 @ 7:00 pm

Location:  Ralston Performing Arts Centre (8989 Park Dr in Ralston, NE)

Interested parties need only attend one day of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you.  Actors will be asked to read from the script.  No prior work with the text is required.

Rehearsals will begin on November 17
Performance Dates: January 17 – February 2, 2020
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Cast requirements are:
Number of male characters: 5
Number of female characters: 5

Hercule Poirot
Monsieur Bouc
Mary Debenham
Hector MacQueen
Michel the conductor
Princess Dragomiroff
Greta Ohlsson
Countess Andrenyi
Helen Hubbard
Colonel Arbuthnot
Samuel Ratchett (doubles with the Colonel)
Head Waiter (doubles with Michel)

Synopsis:
Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Isolated and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must identify the murderer – in case he or she decides to strike again.

Director: Todd Uhrmacher

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.