Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre Announces 2023 Season

Arrow Rock, MOArrow Rock Lyceum Theatre has announced its 2023 season.

The Addams Family
June 9-23

Book by MARSHALL BRICKMAN and RICK ELICE
Music and Lyrics by ANDREW LIPPA
Based on Characters Created by Charles Addams

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious, and spooky—and now they are the stars of a hilariously ghoulish musical! Storm clouds are gathering over the Addams family’s mansion as Gomez faces every father’s nightmare: his daughter, Wednesday, the ultimate princess of darkness, has fallen in love with a sweet, smart young man from a respectable family. And if that wasn’t upsetting enough, Gomez must do something he’s never done before– keep the secret from his beloved wife, Morticia. Everything will change for the whole family on the fateful night they host a dinner for Wednesday’s “normal” boyfriend and his parents. One thing is certain: the Addams family will never be the same.

Beautiful–The Carole King Musical
June 30-July 9

Book by Douglas McGrath
Words and Music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Music by Arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Orchestrations, Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements Steve Sidwell
Originally Produced on Broadway by Paul Blake, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Mike Bosner

Before she was hit-maker Carole King — she was Carole Klein, a spunky, young songwriter from Brooklyn with a unique voice. Beautiful tells the inspiring true story of one woman’s remarkable journey from teenage songwriter to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. From the string of pop classics Carole King wrote for the biggest acts in music, to her own life-changing, chart-busting success, Beautiful takes you back to where it all began—and takes you on the ride of a lifetime. Featuring over two dozen pop classics, including “You’ve Got a Friend,” “One Fine Day,” “Up on the Roof,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and “Natural Woman,” this crowd-pleasing international phenomenon is filled with the songs you remember—and the story you’ll never forget.

State Fair
July 21-30

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Tom Briggs and Louis Mattioli
Based on the screenplay by Oscar Hammerstein II and the Novel by Phil Stong

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s only musical written directly for the screen is now a Broadway musical! Set against the colorful backdrop of an American heartland tradition, State Fair travels with the Frake family as they leave behind the routine of the farm for three days of adventure at the annual Iowa State Fair. Mom and Pop have their hearts set on blue ribbons, while their children Margy and Wayne find romance and heartbreak on the midway. Set to the magical strains of an Academy Award-winning score and augmented by other titles from the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook, State Fair is the kind of warmhearted family entertainment only Rodgers & Hammerstein could deliver!

Laughter On the 23rd Floor
Aug 18-27

By Neil Simon

A love letter to his early career as a TV writer on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows alongside the likes of comedy legends Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor follows the roller coaster antics of a not-your-average 1950s writers’ room, as they frantically attempt to please their larger-than-life boss. Frantically scrambling to top each other with hilarious gags while battling with studio executives who fear the show’s humor is too sophisticated for Middle America, the writing and fighting of the team expose the social and political undercurrents of the 1950s.

The Mousetrap
Sept 8-17

By Agatha Christie

From the Grand Dame of mystery, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap holds the world record for the longest running production, mesmerizing audiences for more than sixty years. Monkswell Manor welcomes a group of strangers in the midst of a snowstorm and on the heels of a murder in town. It soon becomes clear that the killer is among them, and the strangers grow increasingly suspicious of one another. A police detective, arriving on skis, interrogates the suspects: the newlyweds running the house; a spinster with a curious background; an architect who seems better equipped to be a chef; a retired Army major; a strange little man who claims his car has overturned in a drift; and a jurist who makes life miserable for everyone. When a second murder takes place, tensions and fears escalate. Will the identity of the murderer be revealed before they strike again?! The Mousetrap’s riveting plot will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish!

Bright Star
Sept 29-Oct 8

Music, Book & Story by Steve Martin
Music, Lyrics & Story by Edie Brickell

Inspired by a true story and featuring the Tony®-nominated score by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Broadway’s Bright Star tells a sweeping tale of love and redemption set against the rich backdrop of the American South in the 1920s and ’40s. When literary editor Alice Murphy meets a young soldier just home from World War II, he awakens her longing for the child she once lost. Haunted by their unique connection, Alice sets out on a journey to understand her past—and what she finds has the power to transform both of their lives. With beautiful bluegrass melodies and powerfully moving characters, Bright Star unfolds as a rich tapestry of deep emotion. An uplifting and nostalgic theatrical journey that holds you tightly in its grasp, Bright Star is as refreshingly genuine as it is daringly hopeful.

Practical Evil

When a violent encounter with a creepy, conservative conspiracy theorist results in his death, a group of liberal master’s students decide to better the world by killing those they deem to be a potential danger. . . which happens to be those who disagree with their way of thinking.  This is The Last Supper and it is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre under the auspices of SNAP! Productions.

After two years, SNAP! returns to live theatre with a pretty dark and disturbing play by Dan Rosen.  This had actually been a movie and is a combination of a grislier version of Arsenic and Old Lace and the living out of the question, “Would you kill a young Hitler when he was innocent in order the prevent the horrible atrocities he would later commit?”  Rosen has a good grip on the current political climate and his play is actually an interesting commentary on the dangers of political extremism across all spectrums.

That being said, the script is weakened a bit by its lack of character development, dearth of sympathetic characters, and an ambiguous ending (though this becomes less so if you follow the clues.  Here’s a hint.  They’re all visual, so pay close attention.  Happy hunting!)

Todd Brooks has a tremendous sense of atmosphere as he bookends the play between a pair of thunderstorms which well represent the violence of the material and the moment.  He also does an excellent job with the subtlety of the final scene.  Brooks also has led his performers to fairly effective performances, especially with the victims who are the most compelling characters in the show.

Strong ensemble performances come from Dennis Stessman who exudes a cold and palpable menace as the creepy truck driver who gets the victim train going.  Don Harris provides some needed levity as the sheriff.  Randy Wallace is oblivious to his own hypocrisy as the man of God who has a horribly warped view on the horror of AIDS and perceives homosexuality as a disease.  Chloe Irwin is a blend of naivete and arrogance as a high schooler suing her school due to a belief that mandatory sex education is an invasion of her privacy.

As I stated earlier, there is a great lack of character development in the show.  As such, it’s hard to delineate the performances of the primary characters as they simply are what they are.  The only thing that seems to differentiate them is their degree of bloodlust.  The worst of them is willing to kill at the drop of a hat while the best of them comes to realize just how monstrous the group has become.

Roz Parr’s Jude is the primary character that gets the most character development.  At first, she is keen to get in on the killings and is one of the first to suggest eliminating those who don’t adhere to the groupthink.  But she is also the one who truly realizes how corrupted they have become through their heinous acts.  Parr really shines when the focus isn’t on her as her visceral reactions show how appalled and horrified she has become as the murders get easier, but the “crimes” justifying them get significantly minor.

Chris Scott does exemplary work with Norman Arbuthnot.  A conservative pundit in the vein of Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity, Scott’s Arbuthnot is used primarily in interstitials promulgating more and more outlandish bilge until a chance meeting leads to him having dinner with the students where he seems to be a much more reasonable person.  He freely admits that a lot of what he says is just schtick to get attention onto a subject he cares about and almost convinces the students that there is room for differing opinions.  But just when he has you convinced he’s decent, he pulls an act that shows he fully buys his own hype which Scott handles with smarmy aplomb.

Sarah Kolcke has designed a very warm and welcoming home with a comfortable living room and kitchen which serves as a stellar counterpoint to its cold occupants.  Joey Lorincz should win an award for these lights especially with the lightning, the use of shadow, and use of spotlights on silent actors.  Daena Schweiger does some nifty A/V work with the use of the intros for the shows of several conservative pundits as well as her original creation of an intro for Arbuthnot’s show.  Connie Lee’s costumes are natural and suitable to the characters.

Act I felt pretty rough and almost like a rehearsal.  Cue pickups were very loose and the acting in the aftermath of the first death lacked a needed shock and intensity.  In Act II, the conversations felt a lot more natural and in tune with the ever-increasing stakes of the situations.

In the end this show takes a pretty absurdist look at the dangers of extreme political thought, but it also points out the very real threat posed by those who close their minds instead of truly opening up to discuss and debate our differences in order to reach a place of true understanding.

The Last Supper plays at Bellevue Little Theatre under SNAP!’s auspices through July 24.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thursday and Friday and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased at the BLT Box Office or by visiting www.snapproductions.com.  Due to strong language and mature subject matter, this show is not suitable for children.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission St in Bellevue, NE.

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 you 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 on his hands had he sold the toxin.  Maxine shouldn’t have killed him, but her act had thwarted a much greater evil so I pleaded 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.

Analysis of a Murder

On the night of October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten, tortured, and left to die, tied to a barbed wire fence.  His assailants were caught within a day, but the revelation that the vicious attack was, at least, partially motivated by Shepard’s orientation and his subsequent death six days later shone an ugly spotlight on the small town of Laramie, Wyoming.  In an attempt to understand the factors that led to the savage crime and to share the truth, Moises Kaufman and Members of Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie to conduct interviews with the town’s citizens and those who knew him.  The end result of these interviews and news stories was The Laramie Project and it is currently running at The Barn Players.

This is certainly the most ambitious play that I’ve ever seen as Kaufman and Members of Tectonic Theater Project conducted nearly 200 interviews, spliced in news stories, and somehow managed to edit it into the most real play I’m likely to view in my lifetime.  And the reason it’s so real is that is real.  Every word said in this show was said in reality and everything that occurs happened in real life.  The show completely eschews the normal narrative style as each scene is a disparate, standalone bit.  Yet, somehow, it all has a natural flow and tells a gripping tale about the evils of prejudice.  It was both an education and a privilege to watch this masterful bit of storytelling by an ensemble of talented performers that were universally up for the game.

In order to do true justice to this production, I would have to write a 50 page review.  But let me say that this show is an actor’s dream as each and every performer has to play multiple characters.  This requires a cast of top flight, versatile thespians and this show has that in spades as there isn’t a weak link to be found.

Some of the many stellar performances to be found in this production come from Christa James who excels as Shephard’s close friend, Romaine Peterson; Gideon Madison who is particularly convincing as Jedidiah Schultz, a young theatre student who also has the biggest character arc in the show; Larissa Briley as the compassionate Officer Reggie Fluty who cared for the brutalized Shephard at great personal risk after it was discovered he was HIV positive; Christoph Cording who provides levity and wisdom as Doc O’Connor; and Matt Fowler who has the night’s most heart rending moment with his portrayal of Shepard’s father, Dennis, who will get tears flowing with his victim’s statement at the sentencing of his son’s killer.

I was quite taken with Ron Meyer’s portrayal of Father Roger Schmit.  He was gregarious.  He was bold.  He was even humorous with his preciseness of speech.  Most importantly he had a powerful sense of justice.  Schmit helped to organize the vigils for Matthew Shephard, believing it to be right.  But he was also bound and determined to see the truth of the situation be told about the situation.  He wanted justice for Matthew and believed part of the sentencing of his killers should include them telling their story to explain how they reached their particular point and he also insisted that the makers of the play “tell the story correct”.

Brent Custer has some incredible versatility and an epic example of this ability is demonstrated in his beautifully disparate renditions of Aaron McKinney, one of Shephard’s killers, and Matt Galloway, the bartender who was the last person to see Shephard before the crime.

As Galloway, Custer is friendly and observant as he proves to be a potent eyewitness for the prosecution and a bit of a philosopher.  He helps to damage the credibility of the defense’s gay panic theory (claiming that McKinney murdered Shephard in a fit of rage after an unwanted sexual advance) with his theories on territoriality as he claims Shephard’s killers approached him and not the other way around.  His Galloway is also a bit of a ham who clearly enjoys his 15 minutes of fame as a star witness and is quite amusing with his explaining the art of testifying.

With a snap of the fingers, Custer changes from the affable Galloway to the cold and sullen Aaron McKinney.  As McKinney he is as cold-blooded as a reptile and as remorseless a human as you’ll ever see as he calmly admits to his dislike of homosexuals and casually describes the horrific beating he inflicted on Shephard while callously ignoring his pleas to stop.  His only concern is whether he gets 25 to life or the death penalty.

Josh Jackson gives a tour de force performance with the many different roles he portrays in the night’s production.  Seldom have I seen an actor with such transformative abilities as he becomes different personas with slight changes in body language and vocal control.  Through the night, he’ll tug at your heart as Greg Pierotti, a theatre member who felt a kinship with Shepard, repulse you as the hate-mongering Fred Phelps, and make you laugh as the bar owner, Matt Mickelson.

Guiding a show of this difficulty requires a steady and confident director and this show assuredly had one and then some in the form of Ashton Botts.  Her staging is immaculate and struck a unique dichotomy with static movement combined with unyielding energy.  The actors don’t move much, but that’s actually crucial for this show as the energy needs to be on the words in order to draw in the viewer.  It’s also one of the most impressive pieces of coaching I’ve ever seen as the energy of her actors never wanes and each of the sixty characters they play are well-defined and different.  There’s never a point when you don’t know which character an actor is playing.

Nathan Wyman’s simple set of risers and chairs unlock the theatre of the mind as the actors adjust the chairs to suit the scenes and let the audience’s imagination do the rest.  Chuck Cline’s use of lights enhance the story so much with his minimalist application to put the focus squarely on the essential performers of each scene.  Brenna McConaughey’s costumes are as real and natural as the performances of the actors.

This is a very hard show to watch, but it is also a very necessary show to watch due to the challenging themes it presents and the difficult questions it asks.  Where are our values?  Why do we hate that which is different?  Why does society relish sensationalism?  There are no easy answers to these questions, but a statement from Jedidiah Schultz points us in the direction we should be going when he says, “How could I ever think they were different from me?”  When society makes that same realization and starts pulling together like the family it is, this world will be a marvelous place.

The Laramie Project runs at The Barn Players through May 30.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm (and for a showing on Monday, May 24) and Sundays at 2pm.  The show is only available via livestream and tickets may be purchased at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/52153.  Tickets cost $15.  Due to mature themes and language, the show is not suitable for children.  The Barn Players is located at 1000 E 9th St, Ste 225 in Kansas City, MO.

Historic Finery or One Last Blast of Christmas: A.G. Thomson House & Duluth, MN

A.G. Thomson House

Today the road has brought me to Duluth, MN.

I was looking forward to this outing even more than normal.  After getting fully vaccinated, I was ready to experience the most normal adventure I had enjoyed since the pandemic began and I wasn’t let down. 

I started the journey by taking the scenic route through Fort Dodge where I enjoyed a quick bite to eat at Taco Tico before continuing my drive to my stopping point of Northwood, IA.  Cashing in some points, I enjoyed a free night at the Holiday Inn where I was also upgraded to a suite which was much appreciated after a long day of work and driving.  After a full night of uninterrupted sleep, I spent the morning puttering around before hitting the road again at 11:30am.

It was a gray day with sporadic, steady rainfall, but it didn’t dampen my spirits and I found myself in the North Shore town of Duluth and A.G. Thomson Bed & Breakfast, owned by Tim and Angie Allen, before I knew it.

I admit to being wowed when I pulled into the mansion’s parking lot.  A.G. Thomson is a 1909 Dutch Colonial mansion, but looks absolutely pristine and brand new both inside and out.  This property is so meticulously maintained that shoes are left on shelves at the front door.

The inn is absolutely immaculate and has loads of room to spread out with a massive living room, dining room and side porch.  Wine is also sold by the bottle and a room under the staircase contains a refrigerator with water, soft drinks and wine (one complimentary glass per guest) along with a variety of snacks and a large DVD library.

The house had been built for William Ryerson for the sum of $17,000 (roughly $492K today) and passed through the hands of a number of prominent Duluth families.  The name of the house comes from its second owner, Adam G. Thomson, who had a two story addition added to the rear, built the two story carriage house with a four room dwelling on the upper floor and a tool house.

My room was the Mayor’s Chamber, named for John Fedo who owned the house from 1986 to 1989.  Fedo had been the mayor of Duluth and was one of the city’s most controversial figures.  He is credited with the renaissance of Duluth’s lakefront, but was also the only mayor in history to be charged and tried for criminal offenses while in office though he was eventually acquitted.

The room contains the same elegance as found in the rest of the house.  A queen-sized bed takes up a corner of the room.  A tiled gas fireplace is set into one of the walls while the opposite side contains a 2 person whirlpool tub.  The floral wallpaper lends brightness to the room and a leather chair and footstool takes up the center of the room where one can watch the TV set on the wall in comfort.

After getting myself set up, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.  A.G. Thomson is located in the Congdon district AKA the Mansion district.  The area practically shouted wealth as I wandered past the million dollar homes while occasionally communing with nature.  Deer were plentiful and let me get within a few feet for photos before bounding away.  I enjoyed a phone conversation with my best friend, Josh, but eventually called it quits as the late afternoon was becoming a real pea souper and I didn’t need to literally get lost in a fog.

I hopped in the car and made my way to At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Café for some dinner.

At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe

Even without a full vaccination, I would have felt safe visiting this town as Duluth set the bar for social distancing with protocols set in place for local businesses and a strict mask mandate.  At Sara’s Table is certainly no exception as seating is set six feet apart.

The bistro reimagines traditional American food and it is quite tasty.  I was seated in the library and it does have books you can read.  For my dinner I enjoyed a hearty Rachel with fries and tried a cream ale with has the smoothness of a black beer, but lacks the bitterness.  After my fine meal, I returned to the inn where I organized photos and took a long whirlpool bath before collapsing on the softest mattress I have ever lay upon and didn’t crack an eye until morning.

At breakfast I met Chris and Jessie Peterson and enjoyed some conversation with them while enjoying a repast of chocolate chip muffin, warm butternut squash soup, herb and black pepper scrambled eggs, sweet potato mash and French Toast with a blueberry compote.  A truly fine and filling meal which gave me the energy I needed to visit Glensheen.

Glensheen was the home of Chester and Clara Congdon and their family.  Chester was a lawyer and investor who was one of the first millionaires of Duluth.  He had Glensheen built on a 22 acre tract of land located by Lake Superior for the princely sum of $854,000 in 1908 (modern day equivalent of $22 million).  The Jacobean style mansion contains a jaw dropping 39 rooms and the property also contains a boathouse, gardener’s cottage, carriage house, tennis court and a stone arch bridge built over Bent Creek.

Glensheen

In 1968, the property was given to the University of Minnesota-Duluth by Elisabeth Congdon through a life estate and it continues to run the property to this day.  Tragically, Elisabeth Congdon’s life was cut short when she was killed by her son-in-law, Roger Caldwell.  It was theorized that the crime was committed so Elisabeth’s daughter, Marjorie (charged with & acquitted of the murder), could obtain her $8 million inheritance of which he was to receive $2.5 million.  Caldwell would end up accepting a plea deal for second degree murder, but recanted his guilt in his suicide note.  He never received the money.

I was quite fortunate to get a last blast of Christmas as Glensheen was still decorated for the Christmas season.  Twenty-five Christmas trees and a plethora of decorations adorned the mansion.  For social distancing purposes, the tours are self-guided, but placards containing the tour information are present at every stop and an audio tour can be had courtesy of the Glensheen app.

The mansion has been lovingly maintained and I was floored by the luxury in which the family lived. 

The Congdons were also noted for their charity and generosity.  Most notable was that the servants were permitted to enjoy the same menu as that of the family at meal times which was not the tradition of the day.  Chester was also known as a dutiful and loving husband who kept a spare room that he could retire to on nights he worked late so he wouldn’t disturb his wife and gifting her with $14K worth of pearls each Christmas.

All in all, I spent 2 hours at Glensheen before returning to the inn to post photos and begin writing.

For the first time since the pandemic started, I would finally attend worship services instead of taking in an online service.  A six minute walk took me to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The chapel is gorgeous and I enjoyed a pleasant service.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary

Then it was time for a little dinner and I opted for one of the inn’s favorite restaurants, Tavern On the Hill.

Tavern On the Hill is a bar/restaurant and must be quite popular as it was packed to socially distant capacity.  I ended up taking a seat at the bar where I enjoyed a Thai Chicken Tender Melt.  The sandwich is served on sourdough bread with the chicken glazed in a Thai curry sauce and covered with swiss cheese and bacon.  I contentedly nibbled away on the sandwich while reading my latest volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  Once satiated, I returned to the inn for a quiet night of writing, reading and another whirlpool bath.

Sunday morning found me polishing this article a bit before making my way to breakfast. Today’s repast consisted of a dark chocolate raspberry scone with fruit plate and a main course of spinach artichoke baked potato, grape arugula salad and mushroom & asparagus cheese encrusted quiche. I spent a bit conversing with Chris & Jessie who told me about their day and I spoke a bit with Kirsten, the innkeeper, who regaled me with a story of how she and a friend traveled from Alaska to Duluth. I also got to meet with Tim, one of the owners, who had once lived in Omaha when he was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base.

And all too soon, it was over. But I had an amazing time here in Duluth and it was a much appreciated return to normalcy. Rest assured, I will be back in the area again, possibly for my annual Christmas review. But take the time to experience the peace and tranquility of Duluth and enjoy a night or two at A.G. Thomson House. As an ornament says at the second floor, you’ll enter as a stranger, but leave as a friend and you’ll enjoy some world class dining and luxury.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Pardon Me, Boys, is that the Murdering Choo-Choo?

A shady businessman is found murdered in his locked sleeping compartment on the Orient Express.  Will the famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, be able to solve the mystery with his formidable “little gray cells” or has he finally met a killer too cunning for him?  Find out in Murder On the Orient Express adapted by Ken Ludwig from a novel written by Agatha Christie.  It is currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

It’s awfully hard to write about the plot without being too spoilery so I’ll simply say that Ludwig does an admirable job hitting the essential points of the classic mystery.  With his involvement, I was expecting more of a comedy, but Ludwig plays this script surprisingly straight, though he does leave room open for a bit of over the topness with some of the characters.  The mash-up of comedy and drama weaken the first act slightly, but he sticks the ending on the second act as he seems to have decided to be almost totally dramatic with that act.

Todd Uhrmacher provides a solid piece of direction for the production, handling the dual natures of comedy and drama in the first act quite well and excelling with the nearly purely dramatic second act.  I liked the staging of his show as he placed his actors well in the cramped confines of the train without the actors ever seeming bunched up or blocking each other.  Uhrmacher guided his actors to well-defined performances as each imbued a distinct character.

Some enjoyable performances were supplied by Michael Taylor-Stewart who comes off as somewhat off-kilter and creepy as the secretary of the murder victim and Gene Hinkle as the genial CEO of the company that owns the Orient Express.  But Jeff Garst deserves special notice for an exceptional performance as the conductor, Michel.  He gives Michel a very efficient nature and he nails a brief, heart-wrenching moment at the show’s finale.

Jon Flower is an extremely worthy Hercule Poirot.  He has a firm grip on the sleuth with a flawless Belgian accent, well communicating Poirot’s genius with his deductions, displaying a very gentlemanly and cultured nature, and demonstrating Poirot’s fastidious personality with the care he gives to Poirot’s signature moustache.  Flower also brings a certain weightiness to Poirot who has to wrestle with a choice between his devotion to the law and his dedication to justice which, for the first time in his career, may not be one and the same.

D. Laureen Pickle is utterly obnoxious as Mrs. Hubbard. Almost from the get-go one begins looking for a muzzle to clamp shut the mouth of the man-hungry, stuck-up, grating American snob. Pickle plays this character slightly over the top, but always keeps it in the realm of believability.  She also deftly handles the character’s more dramatic moments when certain secrets begin to come to light.

I don’t think Joey Lorincz could design a bad set even if he was working blindfolded.  He has created one of the most ambitious sets I’ve seen on the Bellevue stage with a three room revolving set that shows an elegant dining room, an office/rear of the train, and the tiny, sleeping compartments one would expect to find on a train.  Lorincz does double duty on lights which were also quite effective, especially the dark blue of the recalling of clues during the denouement.  Todd Urhmacher also pulls double duty with his designing of the costumes which evoke memories of the 1930s with the elegant dresses of the ladies and the snappy suits of the men and the classic conductor’s tunic for Michel.  My program lacked a credit for sound effects, but liked the sounds of the train whistle and the rumble of the wheels on the track.

I thought the pace of the first act could have had a snappier pace and there were a few moments when speaking actors were in darkness.  Volume and projection could have been a bit stronger on the parts of some of the actors and accents were a bit of a mixed bag.

Ultimately, this show is a very pleasant theatre experience with the combination of a faithful telling of a legendary mystery and compelling characters making for a respite from the real world for a few hours.

Murder On the Orient Express plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 2.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or calling 402-291-1554 during the hours of 10am-4pm Mon-Sat.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Free-Spirited Farce Flips, Flops & Flies

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Steve Krambeck as Francis Henshall

Charming con artist and ne’er-do-well, Francis Henshall, takes a job as a minder (bodyguard) for a gangster just so he can eat regularly.  When he sees an opportunity to further line his pockets, he takes a job with a second criminal and now needs to keep both from finding out he works for the other.  This is One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean with songs by Grant Olding and based off Carlos Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Trust me, this story is far more complicated than this simple synopsis as farce always is and this play contains all of the elements for a truly great farce.  You’ve got the mistaken identities, gender swapping, pratfalls, slamming doors, constant plot twists, and then everything is tidily resolved at the end of the show.  Bean does good work updating Goldoni’s story for a more modern era as it is set in the late 1960s.  But he also manages to retain the flavor of the original with characters making constant asides to reveal their true thoughts and motivations.  He still manages to make it his own with some out of the box fourth wall breaks and the need for his performers to indulge in a bit of improvisation.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek, one of Omaha’s finest comedic talents, helms this production and he is clearly in his element guiding this clownish tale.  He’s definitely got a good eye for a gag and comes up with some real doozies when it comes to pratfalls and some that are tastefully crass such as when Francis tries to woo a woman with a rose.  His cast has some strong comedic chops and knows how to deliver a punchline and he uses some truly unique staging such as the use of a skiffle band (Colin Duckworth, Paige Cotignola, Susan Hendrick, and Adam Sherrerd) to warm up the audience and cover scene changes with some fun and rollicking tunes.

Some of Omaha’s best and brightest grace this production, but there are some truly standout performances from Bill Hutson as a feeble and deaf waiter; Marcus Benzel whose expressions and animated movements really bolster his scenes; and John Shaw as Alan Dangle, a wannabe actor who always speaks in an overexaggerated, theatrical style.

Steve Krambeck gives an energetic performance as Francis Henshall.  Krambeck certainly has his work cut out for him as he has to add a sense of likability to an unlikable person and he does so admirably.  Krambeck oozes the charm crucial for a con artist and handles the physicality of farce quite well as his character takes quite a beating throughout the night.  But he also shows himself as having a good grip on improvisation as he often repartees with the audience and once even had me believing he had broken character during one of these interactions as his delivery of the joke was so subtle and smooth.

It is certainly an exhausting performance as Krambeck runs, flops, dances, charms, xylophones, and sings his way into your heart.

Cathy Hirsch is sterling in her performance as Rachel Crabbe.  Most impressive is that Ms Hirsch spends most of the show disguised as her character’s twin brother, Roscoe, a thug whose death prior to the show is the catalyst for everything that goes down.  Ms Hirsch’s portrayal of Rachel as Roscoe is quite convincing as her bearing, speech patterns, and walking make her a very believable man.  This also allows for a great change in dynamic when she drops the façade to be the truly feminine Rachel.

Chris Shonka is a gentlemanly brute as Stanley Stubbers.  Beneath his elegant manners beats the heart of a fiend as he’s a killer on the run who doles out violence when angered, has a penchant for sadism, and seems to have a rather deviant appetite for virgins.  Shonka does so well with the excellent manners that one tends to forget just how rotten he truly is until your brain has a chance to process some of the heinous things he’s saying.

Matthew Hamel definitely has a set for the times as the colors of his buildings really reflect the psychedelic 60s.  His buildings and scenes have the flavor of a seaside town and I rather liked his elegant dining room with its grand wooden walls towards the end of Act I.  John Giblilisco’s sounds added to the ambiance of the show with the lolling of waves, the popping of champagne corks, and the splash of bodies hitting the water.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes epitomize the swinging 60s with their bright, loud colors, especially the tweeds of Francis.  Adam Sherrerd does excellent work with the musical direction of the night’s numbers as well as being in fine fettle on lead vocals.

The show could definitely benefit from a few tweaks.  The energy of a farce needs to be akin to a runaway train once it gets going and the pace of the first act dragged.  The accents were uneven among the cast and some of the pratfalls and violence were a bit overly controlled.  On the other hand, comedy, especially farce, really needs the juice of a live audience to energize the performers and the loud laughs I heard tonight gives me confidence that this show is going to get its necessary fuel.

One Man, Two Guvnors plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 5.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $24, with ticket prices varying by performance and seating zone.  Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Due to some of the risqué humor, this show isn’t recommended for young children.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

American Classic on Tap for OCP

Of Mice and Men Opens Feb 15 at Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, NEOf Mice and Men will open Friday, Feb 15 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre from Feb 15-Mar 17, 2019.  Performances wil be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression, George–an intelligent, but uneducated man–and Lennie–a large man with the mind of a child–dream of making enough money to buy their own land.  When a crime is accidentally committed, the two men are faced with a moral predicament in one of the most powerful and devastating stories of the 20th century.

Directed by Ablan Roblin, the play based on the critically acclaimed classic American novel by John Steinbeck explores the ultimate meaning of friendship.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $40 for adults and $24 for students ticket prices varying by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Production:  Of Mice and Men

Written By:  John Steinbeck

Directed By:  Ablan Roblin

Cast

Josh Peyton as George

Tony Schik as Lennie

Dennis Collins as Candy

Nick Zadina as Slim

Mike Leamen as Carlson

Steve Catron as Curley

Mallory Vallier as Curley’s Wife

Donte Plunkett as Crooks

Randy Vest as The Boss

Benjamin Battafarano as Whit

 

BLT Announces Auditions for “Arsenic and Old Lace”

Bellevue Little Theatre presents
Arsenic & Old Lace Auditions

Sunday, November 11 @ 7:00 PM
Monday, November 12 @ 7:00 PM

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

Interested parties need only attend one evening of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you. Those auditioning will be asked to read sections from the script. These will be provided at auditions.

Actors should bring:
• All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts to complete the audition form.
• A recent photo to attach to audition form. Photos do not need to be professional and will not be returned. Should you not have a photo, one will be taken at the time of the audition.
Casting decisions will be completed and all parties notified no later than Sunday, September 16th.

Rehearsals: expected to begin in late November
Performance Dates: January 18-February 3, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Mortimer Brewster is living a happy life: he has a steady job at a prominent New York newspaper, he’s just become engaged, and he gets to visit his sweet spinster aunts to announce the engagement. Mortimer always knew that his family had a bit of a mad gene — his brother believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt and his great-grandfather used to scalp Indians for pleasure — but his world is turned upside down when he realizes that his dear aunts have been poisoning lonely old men for years! When Mortimer’s maniacal brother, Jonathan. (who strangely now resembles Boris Karloff) returns on the night that the aunts were planning to bury the newest victim, Mortimer must rally to help his aunts and protect his fiancé — all while trying to keep his own sanity. as well. An uproarious farce on plays involving murder, Arsenic and Old Lace has become a favorite.
Todd Uhrmacher will be director for this classic.

Adults are required for this production. Cast requirements are as follows.  For information contact the director at uhrmne@gmail.com.

Available Roles:
* Abby Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered– murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Martha Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered–murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Elaine Harper: A sweet young lady who knows what she wants. She is in love with Mortimer and she is not about to let him talk her out of their engagement. (18-25)
* Mortimer Brewster: A young theatre critic who has a bunch of crazy people in his family tree. He himself is afraid of becoming crazy as well as what may happen if people find out about the skeletons in his families cellar. (25-30)
* Teddy Brewster: A bit on the crazy side; Teddy Brewster thinks that he is president teddy Roosevelt. He buries all of Martha and Abby’s “gentlemen” in the basement. (25-35)
* Jonathan Brewster: He was troubled as a child and is even more so as an adult. He has escaped from a mental institution and has murdered multiple people. In order to hide from the law Johnny has had to turn to plastic surgery to alter his face, leaving him disfigured. (30-40)
* Dr. Einstein: A plastic surgeon who is often drinking. He has also escaped from a mental institution. He has a German accent (30-50)
* The Rev. Dr Harper: A protective father to Elaine. (40-60)
* Mr. Gibbs: A nice elderly man who lives alone and has no family. (60-70)
* Officer O’Hera: A officer who doesn’t really want to be an officer. He wants to write plays and is eager to tell the renowned critique Mortimer about his plot. He’s not very good at reading the room or knowing when now is not a good time. (20- 40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Brophy: An officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Klein: Another officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Lieutenant Rooney: All bronze and no brain. An officer of the law. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Mr. Witherspoon: Superintendent of Happy Dale sanitarium. (40-60) (This character may be male or female.)

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.

Cotton Patchin Time Again: Hannibal, MO & Garth Woodside Mansion

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Garth Woodside Mansion

Today the road has brought me to Hannibal, MO.

I had actually had this journey on my mind for quite a while.  When the opportunity arose to review a professional production of Cotton Patch Gospel, I knew I would be making my way to Hannibal and a visit to Garth Woodside Mansion, owned and operated by John and Julie Rolsen.

It was an absolutely perfect day for a road trip.  The sky was sunny and clear and the temperatures were downright springish.  I had a fairly smooth ride into Hannibal, though Google Maps tried to make me take a left turn at Albuquerque.  I ended up finding the road I needed anyway, so neener neener Google!

The inn is located in a secluded area along a gravel road and is of great historical interest as it has a direct connection to the town’s most famous resident, Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain.

The original owners of the inn were John Garth, a successful Hannibal businessman, and his wife, Helen.  The home was built on his farm, Woodside, in the late 1800s.  John and Helen were lifelong friends of Twain who often visited the mansion.  In fact, one of the rooms in the inn is called the Samuel Clemens and Twain actually stayed in the room whenever he visited the Garths.

As I pulled up to the inn, I took a moment to soak in the impressive structure. When you think bed & breakfast, this is the type of building that springs to mind. If the inside was anything like the outside, I knew I was falling into the lap of luxury.  I bumped into another couple on my way to the front door and we were met by Julie Rolsen.  Julie is easily one of the most gregarious innkeepers I have met on my travels and she and her husband have wickedly sharp senses of humor.  If you stay here, read the book on the inn in your room and you’ll agree with me.

After giving us the nickel tour, Julie showed me to the Rosewood, my base of operations for the next few days.  Admittedly, I wanted to stay in the Samuel Clemens to really absorb the inn’s sense of history, but I had been beaten to the punch.  On the other hand, I did get to become a part of a unique piece of inn trivia.

The bed in my room is called the most expensive bed in Missouri.  It’s a hand carved piece of artistry insured for $55K.

After settling in, I did my explorations.  And there is a lot to explore.  Not only is this place one of the most beautiful and luxurious inns I have visited, but it is also one of the largest.  The first floor gives you a sense of history as the furniture is original to the home.  The entire property is remarkably preserved which I attribute to the small number of owners which the property has had.  The Rolsens are only the sixth owners.  Pretty impressive for a 100 plus year old mansion.

I had scheduled a ghost tour for 7pm, so I headed to downtown Hannibal for an early dinner before learning about the haunted history of Hannibal.

I opted to try the Mark Twain Dinette and it was a bit of a mixed bag.  The ambiance is quite nice, but the food was just OK.  I had a Roughin It burger which included pepper jack, chili ranch, and bacon which did fill the cavity.

Afterwards, I explored the main street area.  Though I, to my chagrin, failed to observe them, take a look at the artistic fire hydrants.  They were all painted by Julie.

Downtown Hannibal is pretty compact and most of the interesting sites are all pretty close to one another.  I went down to the Hannibal History Museum and picked up my ticket for the tour.  As the trolley wouldn’t load until 6:50pm, I continued looking around the downtown area and found the Bluff City Theater and City Hall.  Believe it or not, the two buildings are actually connected for my upcoming play review as the theatre is producing the show, but the play is being presented environmentally at City Hall in the council room located on the second floor.

About 6:50, I returned to the museum where I boarded the trolley.  Ghost tours are always an interesting way to learn about a town’s history and Hannibal is reportedly one of the most haunted cities in the country.  The tour consists of traveling to various buildings and hearing about the hauntings and there were some very interesting tales.

One such tale was the story of three boys who disappeared when they went off to explore one of the numerous caves under Hannibal.  In spite of an intense search costing over one million dollars and lasting over a month, the boys were never found as the caves under the town are deep and labyrinthine.

One of the boys reportedly haunts a family, but it is a good haunting.  The ghost is the friend of the family’s little girl, who calls him Shippa.  Our guide showed us a photo of Shippa taken by the little girl on her fake tablet and even I admit that it is a pretty impressive piece of evidence that bears a remarkable similarity to one of the missing boys.

The other tale was a sensitive point in the history of Hannibal.  There was a wealthy businessman named Amos Stillwell who had a younger wife named Fanny who was the belle of the ball.  One winter’s night, Fanny was asleep with her children and her husband came home late from a card party held at the home from his good friend, Captain Munger.  Not wanting to disturb his wife and children, Stillwell retired to his bedroom.

Around midnight, Fanny heard her husband stir in the other room and say, “Fanny?  Is that you?”  At that point a hidden intruder rose out of the darkness and killed Stillwell with a double bladed axe.   Fanny stayed hidden with the children until she was certain the coast was clear, left the children with the maid, and rushed to get their family friend, a doctor, who lived a few blocks away.

The doctor told Fanny he’d be over immediately and that’s when things started getting weird.  Instead of going to the police who were next door to the doctor, Fanny returned home and started cleaning up the gruesome crime scene.  The doctor came over and was shocked at Fanny’s actions and called the police.

The police came with the city physician.  Needless to say, the police were very upset that the crime scene had been tampered with.  Then another strange thing happened.  The city physician refused to let the police question Fanny Stillwell, saying she was too distraught.  This further angered the police as they now had a useless crime scene and a witness whom they couldn’t question.  Even with the help of the Pinkertons, the police were never able to gather much evidence in the mystery.

Nine months later, Fanny married the city physician which was very suspicious and enraged the citizens of Hannibal who literally chased the couple out of town.  The couple would return to visit friends several years later and were arrested for the crime.  However, with the passage of several years, there was even less evidence than before and the city physician was found not guilty and charges against Fanny were dropped.

A book was written about the case and one of the last remaining copies exists at the Hannibal Public Library.  The reason for the book being out of print is that the writer did not get permission from all family members and printing was halted.

Today, it’s reported that the ghost of Amos Stillwell roams the old home of Captain Munger which is now a restaurant known as LaBinnah Bistro.  The reason for this being is that Stillwell spent many happy hours at card parties here and his original home was demolished in the hopes of stopping hauntings there.

Our tour ended in an old Baptist cemetery where we were given dowsing rods to sense paranormal activity.  Allegedly, spirits exude a magnetic field and the rods will be pulled towards it and cross at the point of activity.  Honestly, I did feel the tug and the rods did cross, but dowsing rods also locate water, so while interesting I leave it for the reader to decide if it was science or spirits.

Still, it was a very interesting experience and, as I’ve said, always a good way to learn about local history.

From there it was back to the mansion, where the day’s long drive and activity finally caught up with me.  I drew a bath in the clawfoot tub that was just the perfect temperature, soaked, then curled up in my bed to get a $55K sleep.

I awoke refreshed and hungry.  About 9am, I headed downstairs to breakfast.  John and Julie were clearly born to the B & B business.  Both are natural hosts, chatting with guests and making sure they are provided for.  I sat down to a goblet of Garth Juice.  As John says, “It tastes good and it’s good for you.”  Julie prepared a hot chocolate for me and John also brought me water and milk while I worked through a dish of fruit and a muffin.

The main entrée was a quiche filled with broccoli, cheese, eggs, and ham.  It was a tasty way to start the day and provided needed fuel for a day filled with activities.

I got things going immediately after breakfast with a visit to Mark Twain Cave.

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This name isn’t an attempt to cash in on Twain’s name.  Twain often explored this cave as a boy and he uses this cave in several of his books.  It’s an entertaining and informative little tour, but you may want to bring a jacket as the cave stays at 53 degrees year round.

I really wanted to explore Cameron Cave as well, but the next available tour wasn’t until noon and that tour is 90 minutes and I had an appointment at 1:30.  So, it’s something to look forward to in another visit, especially since you’re provided your own lantern to explore this cave.

From Mark Twain Cave, I headed to the Haunted House on Hill Street.  They were offering a special where for $10 I could tour the house and Karlocks Kars and Pop Culture.  I took them up on the offer.

There isn’t much to the haunted house.  It actually opens with a room filled with 25 intricately sculpted wax figures of Mark Twain, his family, and characters.  Narration is provided giving a history of Mark Twain, his family, and the inspiration for his characters.  Afterwards, you go through a cheesy little haunted house not unlike ones you’d find at a county fair.

Karlocks was a bit more interesting.  It’s a museum filled with vintage cars and sundry pop culture items.  There’s even a bit of a vintage arcade, but playing the games costs quarters.

After my brief tours, I headed over to the Mark Twain Riverboat for a little cruise on the Mississippi.

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The Mark Twain

I took a seat on the top deck outside the pilot house.  Before setting sail, several blasts are made on the whistle and those by the pilot house need to cover your ears.  It was quite a relaxing jaunt as Captain Steve pointed out several points of interests such as Lover’s Leap and Jackson Island which also found its way into the stories of Mark Twain.

During the ride you will actually cross the state line into Illinois and you may just see some wild life.  I saw a couple of alligators silently swimming in the Mississippi and I finally understood just how dangerous they could be as the way they swim do make them seem like sticks or logs.

After a journey on the mighty Mississippi, I returned to Garth Woodside to get cleaned up for church and the show.

I attended services at Holy Family Catholic Church and I would like to clone this church and replicate it for all of my journeys.  This is what worship needs to be like.  Everyone was happy to be there and was ready for Jesus.  You could genuinely feel His presence.  And they were so welcoming.  Father Jim Wheeler asked if there were any visitors and asked us where we were from.  The congregation was so welcoming as I had several brief conversations after church.  Father Jim also gave a great sermon about us needing to be Jesus with skin on which provided a lot of inspiration and food for thought.

Worship certainly prepped me for the faith inspired play, Cotton Patch Gospel, which was being performed at Hannibal City Hall.  It was an interesting and original take on the story and you can read my review here.

After the show, it was back to Garth Woodside and another good night’s sleep.

Somehow the alarm on my clock was turned on and buzzed me up at 6am.  Getting back to sleep wasn’t happening so I wrote my review on the play and got back to work on this article.  I got to this point and went downstairs to breakfast.

OK, I’m back.  Today’s meal consisted of Garth juice, milk, fruit, peach muffin, and breakfast pizza which consisted of egg whites, bacon, sausage, and a pita or sourdough crust.  Julie also made me a mug of English Toffee hot chocolate topped with crushed Heath bits because chocolate makes everything better.

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Breakfast pizza

I ended up having a lively little conversation with the Rolsen family before returning to my room to finish the article and dilly dally until checkout time at Julie’s insistence.  😉

And that about wraps it up for this edition.  If you’re in the Hannibal area, get a room at Garth Woodside Mansion.  It’s a wonderful inn hosted by great people in a private locale and the food is fantastic.

Until the next time, happy travels.