Villains to congregate on RHS stage for student-penned murder mystery
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Jan. 17, 2014
The Rockville High School creative writing classes will soon present their seventh annual murder mystery, titled “Off the Honor Roll.”
The play was primarily written by students Briana Flint, Emily Burg and Bryan Bliek. Bliek said that fellow student Christiane Lee, who also plays the evil stepmother, wanted to stick with tradition, including having the “victim” be not a person but rather a concept, but also do something different from years past.
“Generally, it's that every suspected culprit wants to convince the audience that they didn't do it,” Bliek said. “Her idea was to put a twist on it. We have a bunch of villains who each want to convince the audience that they are the only one who could have done it.”
The characters are all villains borrowed from other movies, as well as television shows and video games, including Dracula, Darth Vader, Bowser from the Mario Brothers' games, and Regina George from the movie "Mean Girls." Clark Kent (played by Nicholas Bartos) is the lone hero and investigator of the murder in the show. While the audience is fully aware of who Kent's alter-ego is, the villains are clueless.
“That's a fun, special connection I have with the audience,” Bartos said.
Bellatrix LeStrange, the notorious Slytherin psychopath from Harry Potter, is played by Deanna Pellegrino. “I absolutely love playing her,” Pellegrino said, adding that studying each character was among challenges for the actors. “The majority of them are evil,” she said. “I had to watch all of the Harry Potter movies back-to-back, which was cool. I had to learn a British accent, which I think is still a little choppy. It's an ensemble piece, so you're always on stage, and have to know everything, front to back, but it stretches your mind as an actor. Working with these guys has been so much fun. We are a family, which is the best.”
Andrew Uzdejczyk said he looked at many interpretations of the famous vampire, but chose the early, Eastern European version for the role. “I wanted a Transylvanian Dracula,” he said. “I'm trying to take it back to the classical era of the vampire.”
Bliek said that while the group used a lot of technology for their playwriting, including Google Docs, a lot of it was good old-fashioned nose to the grindstone work that began in September, producing a final script over the entire first semester of school. “It was us sitting in the computer lab for about two hours every other day,” Bliek said. “We divvyed up the responsibilities, adding on to what we had, peer-checked it, and we kind of made it an assembly line.”
Creative writing teacher Vicki Nordlund said the writers go through two drafts before being worked on by her advanced creative writing class. She said it's fun for her to put on the second hat of director. “It's kind of drama/creative writing,” she said. “It's fun to bring it to life. It's a great experience. I'm so blessed to have such great kids who take on so much.”
Flint said some of the audition process was difficult, because there were very specific casting requirements for some of the characters.
“I think this is the most ambitious murder mystery so far,” Bliek said, adding that there is also a bigger use of light and sound than in the past, and the school's art department is creating the set (a villains' lair, naturally).
The play is highly interactive for the audience. Characters often venture out into the seats and during the intermission will converse with audience members, trying to convince them that they are indeed the murderer in question. The audience will be able to place raffle tickets in containers, voting for who they think the culprit is. The winning bin will be drawn from at the end of the show for a variety of prizes. The killer will also be different for each performance, so there is no chance for the audience to cheat.
The cast members agreed that people of all ages will very much enjoy the show, including the pop culture references. “There are references to 'Mean Girls,' 'The Wizard of Oz,' so really it will appeal to the young and old people in the audience,” Flint said.
“It's a hysterical play,” Pellegrino said. “This is the funniest one the writers have written in a long time.”
“You would think the jokes would get old for us, after hearing them so many times,” Uzdejczyk said. “But, honestly, we keep laughing over and over.”
“People will identify with the different characters,” Nordlund said.
“The characters and the interaction are the best parts of the show,” Bartos said.
Proceeds from the production will go to creative writing scholarships for Rockville High School students, and to bring authors to the school for workshops with students.
“Murder/Mystery – Off the Honor Roll” will be presented Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at the Rockville High School auditorium. Tickets are $5 in advance and $7 at the door. For more information, visit www.rhsauditorium.com.