by Mallory Moad
Halloween is on the way. Have you made plans for the spooky-ookiest day of the year? Trick-or-treating is fun for the kids, but if you’re a grownup who’s looking for something more age-appropriate and dignified than a been there/done that haunted house, stay with me.
The Fresno County Historical Society, in collaboration with members of the Fresno theater scene, will be presenting its first Mystery at Kearney Mansion. Part dinner theater and part Clue game, this audience-interactive production promises an enjoyable evening of food and entertainment that will have your little gray cells working overtime.
Oh no! A murder, you say? At this historical landmark? Oh, yes! Here’s how it works: In a 100% fictional scenario the owner of Kearney Mansion, Mark Roundim, is found murdered on the grounds of the estate (newly converted to a hotel or “leisure experience”) on the night of its grand reopening. Tracy Roundim, daughter of the deceased and ever the opportunist, has decided to use the murder to the hotel’s advantage by inviting the guests (played by the audience) to take part in a real murder investigation. Actors playing suspects will be positioned throughout the mansion and will provide information, clues, and red herrings. Get out your deerstalker hat and magnifying glass because the game’s afoot!
Fresno County Historical Society Development Director, Candice Pendergrass, has always wanted to stage a mystery dinner event as a fundraiser for Kearney Mansion. “A beautiful historic mansion is the perfect backdrop for something like this,” she said. Originally planned for 2020 but postponed because of you-know-what, Candice is looking forward to what she hopes will not only be a “smashing success,” but will become an annual affair. And if ticket sales are any indication, she just might get her wish.
Candice was assisted by local actors, Renee Newlove and Dakota Simpson, in producing this complicated performance. The logistics alone are a challenge: a colorful cast of eight characters in eight different rooms, plus a lavish meal catered by The Painted Table, a bar, and a nightly audience of thirty-five that will be divided into smaller groups in order to observe social distancing. As for the actors, Renee explained the need to be on their toes at all times. “This will be very improv-y for us. The actors will be mingling with the audience (anonymously) before the show begins.” Although they will be presenting pre-existing monologues, the structure of the piece itself leaves plenty of opportunities for going off script. She stresses that the audience plays a crucial role, with their observational skills and questioning techniques contributing to the outcome of the story. She adds there will also be atmospheric effects in the form of themed music for each character, in each room. “It’s very Disneyland and a lot of fun!” The evening’s activities will conclude as suspects, guests, and, finally, detective assemble for a very Murder By Death/Knives Out conclusion.
So what will it be? Hand out candy in your pajamas or dress to the nines and help solve a crime while enjoying fine food and drinks in one of Fresno’s most gorgeous settings? Use your deductive reasoning and you’ll have your decision in no time…
My name is Mallory Moad. I know whodunnit, but I’m not telling.
You can get more information on Murder at Kearney Mansion online at valleyhistory.org/mystery-dinner-at-kearney-manor.