Serving Up Murder, Mystery & Mayhem Memorial Weekend

(from L) Vic Sirkin, Betty Anderson and Lou Bacher play the leads

By Marcia E. Gawecki

If you’re up for a little murder-mystery-mayhem this Memorial Day Weekend, “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” offers your best ticket.

It’s put on by the same group of community actors that brought you “The Odd Couple” last year.

So before you begin groaning or giggling, keep in mind this troupe raised more than $11,000 in ticket sales and auction items for the Idyllwild Help Center last year.

And since this year presents an even greater need, their goal is now $15,000. To achieve this, Director Conor O’Farrell has expanded the performances from three to four, to accommodate everyone’s schedule Memorial Weekend. Dinner shows run from Friday, May 27 to Monday, May 31.

“We added another night because of the popularity of ‘The Odd Couple,’” Conor said. “For the last show, we turned about 20 people away.”

Town Hall has a capacity of 120 seats. An Italian dinner is included into the $35 ticket price and will be served on the grounds around Town Hall.  Sysco Foods, Café Aroma and Help Center volunteers all worked together to make it happen, said Lou Bacher, who is now president of the Idyllwild Help Center, as well as an actor in the show.

“But instead of 600 lines that I had to recite for ‘The Odd Couple,’” I only have 200 lines,” Lou said.

The combination of a light comedy dinner theater worked for the Help Center last year, so Conor has agreed to another show. He chose “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s for this troupe because he had performed 15 years ago, and local audiences loved it.

(from L) Lou and Vic brought the house down in "The Odd Couple" last year.

“It’s a silly play, really,” Conor said over coffee at Café Aroma. “Great drama has layers and texture. This has nothing like that. It’s just joke after joke.  But if you want to laugh and have a good time, then we’ll deliver.”

Conor added that during “The Odd Couple,” performance Lou and Vic had their books in hand onstage and were still calling for lines.

“We were entertained by their screw ups,” he said.

But this time, Conor isn’t going to tax out his actors by making them learn so many lines. He’s assigned different actors for each of the acts.

“Wigs and costumes will be the same to help clarify things,” Conor explained.

You see, the story centers around an unhappily married couple and their dentist. Scenes are set at a Howard Johnson’s Hotel on New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July and Christmas.  Without spoiling the show, just know that two of the three main characters conspire to kill one other. Murder, mystery and mayhem ensue.

The cast includes Betty Anderson, Holly O’Farrell, Frank Ferro, Chris Singer, Phil Drell, Pete Caparelli, Lou Bacher and Vic Sirkin.

“Without naming names, there’s one actor who is really awkward onstage. It’s so bad it’s funny,” Conor said.

Vic bristled.

“We didn’t invite you here to put us down and steal the whole interview,” he said.

“I went into acting because it’s always about me,” Conor said, and reminded Vic that play practice started in 15 minutes.

It's all about having a good time and giving to the Help Center, Vic said

“What’s your first line?” Conor asked Vic, holding up a crisp piece of bacon.

Vic licked his lips and began panting loudly.

“Where are the towels?” Vic shouted.

“Good boy!” Conor exclaimed.

However, not everyone in the cast is a novice. Betty Anderson has been a model and actor for awhile. She and her family moved from San Diego to Idyllwild because her daughter, Gemini, is studying theater at Idyllwild Arts.

“Did Conor tell you about himself?” Betty asked.

Not only is Conor a good director, but an accomplished Hollywood actor. He’s appeared in film, theater and television. Some of the more popular TV shows include “NCIS,” “CSI,””Cold Case,” “The Mentalist,” “Star Trek: Enterprise” and “Without a Trace.”

“Fame aside, he’s just Conor, a crabby, egomanic director when he’s here in Idyllwild,” Vic reminded us.

One popular auction item will feature a semi-nude Frank Ferro, owner-manager of Cafe Aroma.

“Since the show uses lots of towels as props, we’re auctioning off a framed photo of Frank in a towel,” Conor said.

Last year, a photo of Frank in nothing but an apron raised $250 for the Help Center.

“Everyone thinks Frank is sexy,” Conor added. “They didn’t ask Vic or me to pose in a towel.”

Other auction items include movie box sets, a director’s chair and other autographed items.

Tickets for “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” are available at the Idyllwild Help Center, Silver Pines Lodge and by calling (951) 659-4335. The $35 ticket price includes dinner, which will be served from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. Shows start promptly at 7 p.m.

All ticket proceeds go to the Idyllwild Help Center. The show was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Mary Austin Grant & Scholarship Fund.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

the attachments to this post:

Murder 2 Trio

Murder 2 Trio

Odd Vic Alone

Murder 2 Trio

Odd Couple

Murder 2 Trio

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