Review: Dinner theater troupe serves up delicious mystery at Hereford House

The Leavenworth Players Group, performing in the downstairs banquet room of the Hereford House, gave a good evening's entertainment to nearly 50 diners Saturday.

Group members, who present dinner theater at restaurants throughout northeast Kansas, handily brought their roles to life over a two-hour period during which they performed the fixed scenes of "Murder at Madam Conundrum's, or Ghost Who's Coming to Dinner," plus extensive improvisation while serving drinks and dinner.

The cast of six circulated among the audience before the first scene began, remaining in character while taking beverage orders and serving fruit-and-cheese appetizers. As they made the rounds, they interacted with the audience, dropping hints about their characters' backgrounds, and encouraging questions and good-humored banter from theatergoers. This interaction continued as each course was served. The audience quickly got into the spirit, learning to address the cast members as their characters rather than as actors.

The comic murder mystery got under way with a death during Madam Conundrum's opening seance. As sheer luck would have it, one of the characters attending the seance was Frank Wolf, a detective, who by evening's end identified and arrested the killer. Of course, each of the characters had a sufficient motive, but which one led to the murder?

Michael Hogge played the bumbling detective with a convincing stolidity, earnestly testing the other characters plus several audience members for gunpowder residue. When none was found, he concluded that the killer must have worn gloves. (Note: There was no gunshot.)

Was it the megalomaniac herpetologist Dr. Newton Covington, speaking continually of his own wealth, prestige and knowledge of poisonous venoms? Greg Marino, the play's author, was convincing in the part.

Was it Covington's ditzy second wife, drinking and giggling and flashing cleavage throughout the evening? Tracy Hansen turned in an over-the-top performance in the role.

Was it Madam Conundrum's lawyer, the unsavory and secretive Frank Stockton (why did he have offices in "Kansas City, Beverly Hills and Vienna")? Christopher Durant played the heavy effectively, complete with mutters, sneers and beetling brows.

Or could it have been the spiritualist's long-time assistant, Carol Ann Babson? Rebecca Schwemmer was perfect in the part with an icily controlled demeanor that easily put her among the suspects.

Though Madam Conundrum's part was necessarily brief, dying as she did in the opening scene, Sheri Custer portrayed her well, and returned with equal aplomb near the end as the spirit of Wolf's departed wife, both ethereal and regal in a ghostly white gown.

Audience members were very much in the spirit of the evening, questioning the characters as they served and discussing among themselves their theories of whodunnit. The Hereford House entrees (strip steak, chicken parmigiana, grilled mahimahi) were tasty and very capably served by the cast. Tickets were $35 for the dinner and play. The Leavenworth Players will return to the Hereford House, 4931 W. Sixth St., for a second performance Sunday. For reservations, call 842-2333.


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