Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October, 1999
Line up the usual suspects. A group of supernatural "experts" closeted in the PNA trying to raise the "troubled spirit that walks these halls". Ouija boards, mystical crystals, seances. The light goes out - someone screams. Cue the buckets of stage blood. Whodunnit? There isn't any butler and so it must be...
But I wouldn't do that. Despite being hauled up on stage as a suspect in the second murder. (I'm innocent, I tell you, innocent!)
"Unnatural Screams of Death" is the third interactive theatrical offering by the newly formed Victory Street Productions in Adams. This one is written and directed by Thorman Hulse, who has another theatrical concern Stagestruck which has specialized in offering interactive murder mystery evenings and weekends for some years now.
I confess that I am not a fan of horror and dark fantasy. Aside from the Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason stories that I gobbled up as a young teenager, and the fascinating 12th century world of Brother Cadfael which caught my imagination a few years ago, I am not a murder mystery kind of girl. Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers leave me cold. I would imagine that people who love a good murder mystery will find "Unnatural Screams" far more entertaining than I did.
However, even with my jaded eye, I am not at all sure that "Unnatural Screams" is a good murder mystery. Despite being assured by a sheet of paper that I was handed at the door entitled "Rules of the Game" that "all clues will be revealed", I could not see any direct correlation between the identity of the murderer and what had gone on in the preceding two hours. The Rules ask you to "Follow the action closely. Listen carefully." but that is hard to do in an interactive setting. Actors engage you in one-on-one conversation. How can you eavesdrop on all of the conversations in the room, or pay attention to action that is behind you? There may have been clues that I completely missed.
But I did have a good time at "Unnatural Screams" Hulse's corps of actors have really gotten the hang of this interacting business. Where conversation was painful for both actor and audience in their May production of "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding" it now flows freely. You have to go to a production like this ready to take part, because the actors are now completely ready to make you a part of the show. When I was questioned in the murder of Mrs. Frances Bright Hodgkins Macomber (I didn't do it! I was in this uncomfortable chair the whole time - I swear it!) Veronica Martins as Deputy Sheriff Wilma Slothrop was ready to handle all of my answers.
Hulse has developed a core group of performers who have been with him for all of these interactive ventures. Martins, as always, was a hoot as the dimwitted Sheriff. Megan Charbonneau gave a...uh...stimulating performance as Azaria, Temptress of the Dawn. And newcomer Teresa Gladu provided lots of laughs as Bodacia Belongewicz, along with Merideth Nicholaev as her equally goth and bubble-brained sister Morticia.
I attended the full dress rehearsal and so did not get to partake of the dinner catered by the Lakeside Restaurant, although I did receive a menu and everything looked scrumptious. But this prevents me from giving you an accurate idea of how long the show runs. I was at the PNA for two and a half hours - half an hour of interaction in the bar before the play proper began at 7 PM, and the other two hours in Alliance Hall actually unravelling the mystery. You don't need to get there as early as I did, but with dinner I would guess you are looking at at least two and a half hours, maybe three depending on how fast the service is and how fast your fellow audience members eat.
"Unnatural Screams of Death", Victory Street Productions, runs October 15, 16, 22, and 23 at the PNA (Polish National Alliance) Hall, 13 Victory Street in Adams. Curtain time is at 7 PM. $20 buys you the show and dinner catered by the Lakeside Restaurant. Call 413-743-9319 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999