And Then There Was Fun

Six people are invited to the retreat of Col. Rancour with a request for the Colonel to visit each of them individually.  However, when a storm washes out the bridge to freedom and guests start dropping dead, it becomes clear that among the guests, help, and trapped college student lies a murderer.  This is Something’s Afoot and it is currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

It is really difficult to engage in an analysis of the script without revealing a salient plot point of this mystery, so I’m just going to leave things lie with my opening paragraph and you’ll just have to come watch.  What I can say is that James McDonald, David Vos, and Robert Gerlach definitely did a deep dive into detective fiction in general and Agathe Christie mysteries in particular to come up with the plot of this story.  In fact, it’s a good combination of the plotting of Agatha Christie and the presentation of Rex Stout (in the sense that the solution to the mystery is secondary to the colorful characters).  Wrapped in the stylings of an old-time British music hall performance, this show provides a unique twist to the musical genre and a fun night of theatre.

Colton Pometta gets this show.  This show is a very satirical poke at mysteries and Pometta rides that wave for all it’s worth.  He lets his characters go over the top just enough so that they’re larger than life and amusing, but keeps them away from the point where it would become farcical and gauche.  Pometta’s timing is spot on as his performers picked up cues like lightning and kept driving this show along.  His staging is strong with full use of the space and ratcheting up the tension once it’s clear the murderer is somewhere in the house.  Pometta has also led his actors to well-defined characters and tight performances.

There isn’t a weak link in the cast and each is a vital part of the machine.  Roger Williams has a very stiff upper lip as the very proper butler, Clive.  Justin Barron is a solid caretaker and a bit of a lech with his pinching of ladies’ glutes.  Deanna Mazdra is humorous as the very Cockney maid whose sense of self-preservation is exceeded only by her greed.  Bob Wearing invokes the spirit of Terry Thomas with his take on the slimy, money-grubbing nephew of Col Rancour.  Todd Davison is clinical as the family doctor.  Mike Ott is a scream as the blustering Col. Gillweather with some of the best extemporaneous asides I’ve ever heard and the funniest death scene I’ve ever seen.  Kim Braun is appropriately snooty as the grand dame, Lady Grace Manley-Prowe.

Licia Watson tickles the funny bone as Miss Tweed, the artist/amateur sleuth.  Clearly she is meant to be a combination of Agatha Christie and her creation, Miss Marple.  Most of her humor comes from the fact that she lacks the deductive prowess of Christie’s famed sleuth, though the dimes do eventually drop.  Watson’s Tweed definitely isn’t lacking in courage as she confidently stumbles her way through the investigation.  Watson also has a potent singing voice as she invokes British fortitude in “Carry On” and explains the secret to her deductive “brilliance” in “I Owe It All”.

Jacob Sefcak’s take on Geoffrey reminded me of a young Michael Crawford as Geoffrey definitely has that charming idiot vibe.  Sefcak nails the puppy dog loyalty and looks of young love and is clearly not the brightest of bulbs.  Sefcak also has a dandy tenor that captures every ounce of sap needed for “I Don’t Know Why I Trust You (But I Do)” and “New Day”.

Abigail Becker is darling as Hope Langdon.  Becker’s Langdon operates on the same intellectual plane as Geoffrey, but is such a ray of sunshine.  She is exactly what she appears to be (or is she?) and has a crystal clear soprano that joyously welcomes the guests in “A Marvelous Weekend” or moons over Geoffrey in “You Fell Out of the Sky”.

I was particularly impressed with the sound work of this production as Madison Phillips’ thunderclaps, creaks, and sounds of death traps add the proper atmosphere to the story.  Todd Davison has designed an elegant retreat for the wealthy Rancour with its purple walls and use of outlines and light to depict a large window.  Jenna Alley’s props help to flesh out the world, especially with the large portrait of Rancour.  Kelby King’s costumes suit the class statuses of the characters as well as the time period with accurate dresses and suits.  I also tip my hat to the lights which were suitably eerie when power was knocked out or the chandeliers were lit.  The band also effortlessly handled the music hall score.

Trust me, you don’t need to be a fan of murder mysteries to enjoy this show.  If you like comedy and some old-fashioned tunes, then you’ll like this show, too.  But accept the challenge of trying to solve the mystery and you’ll find yourself most thoroughly engaged.

Something’s Afoot runs at Maples Repertory Theatre through Nov 6.  Showtimes are 2pm on Oct 22-23, 25-26, 29-30 and Nov 1-2 and 4-6 and at 7:30pm Oct 23, 28, 30, and Nov 2. Tickets cost $33 for the Main Floor and $26 for the balcony and can be obtained at the Box Office or by visiting www.maplesrep.com or calling 660-385-2924. Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Return to the Rising Sun, Day 1: Getting There is Half the Fun

It was a journey 4 years in the making.  After the end of our escapades in Japan (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), my friends, Mat O’Donnell and David Sundberg, and I decided we would one day return to experience it anew.  With Mat’s impending wedding in November, it was decided that the adventure would take place in August 2016.

After months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived to begin our return to the Land of the Rising Sun.

It takes a lot of time to get to Japan and I mean a LOT of time.  On August 16, Dave and I awoke at 2:30am.  Our first flight of the day would leave at 6:20am.

001

Dave is bright eyed and bushy tailed for the day ahead.

My good friend, Jeff Bevirt, picked Dave and I from my home and drove us to Eppley Airfield where we met Dave’s niece, Amy Joy, who would also be joining us on the excursion.

We would be using United Airlines.  This was my first time utilizing their services and it was pretty good all the way around.  When we arrived at the nearly empty airport, a friendly desk agent took our passports and quickly checked us in and checked in Dave’s suitcase.  Using the “gussie” system of packing, I would be checking no luggage so I’d have one less thing to worry about.

003

Transportation to Japan provided by United Airlines.

United likes to board early and we started getting on board nearly an hour before our flight started.  I happen to think this is a good business practice as if everyone manages to get onboard early, we can leave a little early which is exactly what happened.

After a brief flight, our little group laid over in Denver for an hour, where we scarfed a quick breakfast from McDonald’s (oh, how I hate to rush a meal) and boarded another plane set to take us to Los Angeles.

At LAX, I made my only miscalculation of the trip.  I decided to change my dollars over to yen while I was there.  I got a pretty good deal, but would learn that I should have waited until I reached Narita International Airport in Japan as they give you a much better deal.  My dough would have netted me an extra 15,000 yen had I waited.  So take my advice, if you go to Japan, always exchange your money at Narita.

We waited through a 2.5 hour layover at LAX before finally beginning the long haul of the trip.  I love to fly, but 12 hours is an awfully long time to be on a plane.  They do their best to distract one with a wide variety of entertainment from movies to music to TV shows.  To pass the time, I read a new Sherlock Holmes pastiche, began a new Nero Wolfe novel, watched a little TV as well as the films Money Monster and Insomnia.

There was something profound about this trip, especially as I was taking it in the daytime and could look out the window.  There’s something deep about looking down on the majesty of the Pacific Ocean and seeing nothing but blue as far as the eye can see.  We also went from day to night to day in a flash as we crossed over to the other side of the planet.  And there was something about flying over the edge of Alaska that put a smile on my face as I looked down upon it.

The food wasn’t too bad on the flight.  United prides itself on its 3 course meals and served us a lunch of teriyaki chicken, rice, vegetable medley, and salad with southwestern rice.  For dessert, they served us a wonderful vanilla bean gelato which was some of best ice cream-type food I have ever eaten.  Before touchdown, they served a breakfast of Udon noodles, though Dave had to be a rebel and order the scrambled eggs.

As I said the journey was long and I only napped for about an hour as excitement fueled my body.  Upon arriving at Narita, we waited for Mat who was delayed as everybody on the planet decided to land at Narita at the same time he did.  This slowed down his going through customs and immigration which my little group blew through in about 15 minutes.

008

Japan, I have arrived.

We collected our resident expert, then got our J-Rail passes so we could travel through Japan.  Then we hopped on the Narita Express for a 90 minute journey to Shinjuku to arrive at the first house we would stay at through Air BnB where we met Mat’s friend, Mauricio, and his girlfriend, Allison, who would be joining us on a part of the adventure.

Despite being beyond the point of exhaustion our little group went out to dinner at a place called Pronto’s which is a bar/restaurant.  I normally don’t like to eat late, but one thing I appreciate about Japan is that we share a similar size appetite as all servings in Japan are small.  I had some juicy fried chicken with a splash of lemon.  After dinner we stopped at a mini-mart to get some things for breakfast.  I grabbed an orange juice and some of the famed pancakewiches of Japan.

011

Pancakewich

I passed out and I mean passed out on my tatami mat to end this day’s adventures.

Meandering in Missouri, Day 3: A Fantastic Tour & Breakfast

I slept like a rock.  I awoke the next morning revitalized, refreshed, and ravenous.

The chef had prepared a sweet potato casserole with homemade sausage, onions, green peppers, and cheese.  On the side was a slice of toast and some fruit.  I munched away as I continued reading the investigations of Nero Wolfe.  During the meal, I met Gary, owner of Walnut Street Inn, and found him to be a most gregarious and gracious host.

Sweet potato casserole, toast, and fruit.

Sweet potato casserole, toast, and fruit.

After my meal, I requested breakfast for the same time on Monday and left for my big event of the day:  a tour of Fantastic Caverns.

Fantastic Caverns is the only driving cave tour in the Americas and one of only ten in the world.  It was discovered in 1862 by a farmer’s dog who found the proverbial needle in the haystack when he clambered through a small hold hidden by an overgrowth of ivy and grass.  The cave did not get a proper exploration until 1867.  Astonishingly, for the time, the explorers were 12 members of a women’s athletics club who answered an ad for explorers.  Their ages ranged from 13-18 and they signed one of the walls.

The first explorers of Fantastic Caverns.  They were 12 women of a local athletics club.

The first explorers of Fantastic Caverns. They were 12 women of a local athletics club.

It was a blisteringly hot day, so the cave, which remains a constant 60 degrees year round, was quite a relief from the heat and humidity.  I’m not partial to puns in my writing, but Fantastic Caverns was, well, cavernous.  I’ve toured several caves, but have not seen anything to compare with the sheer massiveness of Fantastic Caverns.  Descriptions fail me.  It must be experienced, but I hope my pictures do the tour some modicum of justice.

022031029028

The tour was helped by our guides, Brandon and Joey.  Joey, in particular, was a very animated talker who gave a lot of zip to the stories of Fantastic Caverns and there were plenty.  One of the most intriguing tales was that Fantastic Caverns was the birthplace of Ozark music.  A radio/stage show called Farmarama took place in the caves from 1961 to 1968 and featured many of the big names of country music.

After 55 minutes, the tour came to an end, but I highly suggest taking some time to experience Fantastic Caverns for yourself and I’d like to thank the staff of Fantastic Caverns for allowing me to tour the caves for free for my article.

The spring of Fantastic Caverns' Spring Trail

The spring of Fantastic Caverns’ Spring Trail

Back in the swelter, I walked a couple of small trails near the caverns before driving back into town.  I wandered around the town a bit and paid a brief visit to Battlefield Mall.  It was too hot for walking around so I returned to Walnut Street Inn where I caught a small nap and finished The League of Frightened Men.

For dinner, I walked down to Ebbets Field for my dinner.  Ebbets Field is a sports bar and several TVs featuring multiple sports played throughout the establishment.  I decided to try the Da Sandy, a cheeseburger basted in Ebbets homemade hot sauce with fresh made fries.  It was quite tasty and actually hit the spot.

Afterwards, it was back to Walnut Street Inn for a quiet and relaxing evening.

I enjoyed a long bath and shave the next morning and was met with a breakfast of scrambled eggs with Tabasco, bacon, fruit, toast, and orange juice.

Scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, and bacon.

Scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, and bacon.

Breakfast was a pleasant affair as I enjoyed a good conversation with Jennifer Wilkinson, the Study Abroad Manager for the University of Roehampton in London and another family visiting Springfield.  I swapped business cards with Jennifer, then returned to my room to begin preparing for my journey home.

I wish I had a few more days to spend in Springfield due to all of the things to do and places to go.  It’s a fine place to visit and if chance or design brings you to the region, get a room for yourself at Walnut Street Inn.  The hospitality is top notch.  The rooms are unique and comfortable.  The food is great and the company cannot be beat.

Meandering through Missouri, Day 1: A Night at Whiskey Mansion

Whiskey Mansion

Whiskey Mansion

Believe it or not, dear readers, we have reached the 2nd anniversary of Chris’ Corner.  So, in celebration, I am bringing you along as I explore not one, but two, bed and breakfasts.

Ultimately, my road would be taking me to Springfield, MO, but I decided to have a brief stopover in St Joseph, MO where I would visit Whiskey Mansion.

Unlike most of the towns I have visited to experience bed and breakfasts, St Joseph is actually a big town with a population of nearly 80,000 people.  It self-describes as a sleepy river town, but don’t let that moniker fool you.  It is actually quite a bustling town with a lot of things to see and do and was once a very wealthy town due to its reputation as a wholesale distribution center.

My journey took me to the historic district of St Joseph.  This area is a fixer-upper’s dream.  There are quite a few mansions and old homes in the area, some in pristine condition and some which could use some fixing up.  The area is known for two hills:  Mansion Hill and Cathedral Hill.  Yes, the names are self-explanatory.  Mansion Hill is famous for mansions and Cathedral Hill is notable for its numerous churches.

I pulled up to Whiskey Mansion and immediately began searching for a way in.  The front door is actually tucked away on the patio, if you choose to visit.  I saw no sign of a doorbell, so I tested the handle on the door and found it unlocked.  I entered the inn where I slowly walked through the living room, soaking up the scenery of the mansion.  I heard the clank of dishes somewhere in the back of the house and called out, “Hello.”

A few moments later I met Mark who was taking care of Whiskey Mansion for the owner that weekend.  He gave me a brief tour of the home and led me to the Tower Room which would serve as my abode for the night.

Tower Room

Tower Room

003002

The Tower Room is a bit of a misnomer as it is actually on the second floor of the house.  It is a very quaint and cozy room, dominated by a queen bed and a sitting area by two bay windows.  After settling in, I began my explorations of the house.

The interesting thing about Whiskey Mansion is that it feels like a very old house as opposed to an inn.  As Mark said, it is not a museum, so people are welcome to go wherever they like in the house.  This gives it a very quaint, lived in quality.

Mark showed me a pictorial history of Whiskey Mansion and the house had been gutted by arson in the mid 1990s.  The fire destroyed the third floor of the house and smoke damaged the rest.   It was at this point that the current owner bought the place and he slowly restored the mansion to its current state.

A picture of Whiskey Mansion after the fire that destroyed it in the mid 1990s.

A picture of Whiskey Mansion after the fire that destroyed it in the mid 1990s.

Under Mark’s suggestion, I visited Boudreaux’s Louisiana Seafood for dinner.  I definitely recommend this eatery, if you find yourself in St Joseph.

The restaurant is in the bottom floor of a warehouse on Robidoux Row and this was some of the best Cajun cuisine I had ever tasted.  I began with a cup of shrimp gumbo which I thought was a bit overpriced at $5.99, but it tasted so good, I felt it was worth the cost.  The spicy brown broth was absolutely delicious and the shrimp were anything but small as each was nearly the length of my pinkie finger.  Throw a little rice into the soup and you have a tasty dish.

For the main entrée, I had a chicken Po’Boy half sandwich with a side of Cajun mashed potatoes.  The sandwich was perfect.  Everything from the crunch of the lightly toasted baguette, to the slightly blackened chicken, to the tasty cheese, and tantalizing special sauce was a delight to my tongue.  And the potatoes were the best I have ever eaten.  Zesty and fluffy.  If you eat anything at this restaurant, try this.

With my stomach full, I returned to the inn to do a little work before crawling under the thick blankets and resting my head on the feather pillows for a good night’s sleep.

Upon awaking the next morning, I was ready for a good meal.  It was a beautiful day so I decided to enjoy breakfast out on the patio. Let me assure you that the breakfast at Whiskey Mansion is not one to be missed.  The food was worth the stay by itself.

Mark started me off with a small dish of mixed fruit (grapes, strawberries, and banana) served with a goblet of water and a glass of orange juice.  That was followed with two slices of fresh baked cranberry bread.  It was amazing!  I haven’t had fresh baked bread since I was a kid and a lot of fond memories were awakened with the smell of warm bread wafting in the air.  The bread was lightly drizzled with honey, butter, and I thought I detected a whiff of cinnamon.  Mark told me that the owner bakes three different kinds of bread, so it would be worth coming back just to sample the other varieties.

Some mixed fruit, water, and OJ to start the day.

Some mixed fruit, water, and OJ to start the day.

Mmmmm!!!  Fresh baked cranberry bread with honey.

Mmmmm!!! Fresh baked cranberry bread with honey.

Cheese quiche

Cheese quiche

The main course was a sensational cheese quiche.  I slowly indulged my taste buds as I read through The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout, a tale of the great armchair detective, Nero Wolfe (who also happens to be a gourmet and gourmand).

After breakfast, Mark gave me a tour of the unoccupied guest rooms and I returned to my room to finish my article and continue to Springfield.

Whiskey Mansion is worthy of a visit if you find yourself in St Joseph, MO.  You’ll find clean and comfortable rooms in a house filled with character and you will enjoy one of the finest breakfasts you can imagine.