Comedic whodunit dinner theater entertains at West Barre Church

Posted 2 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Sue Cook – Judge Cosworth, played by Reed Markle, and Margaret Mason (Iva McKenna) observe as Miss Peabody (Jann Davis) eats one of the desserts in the baking contest during the play of “Just Desserts.”

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

BARRE – For the past 25 years the West Barre United Methodist Church has made a habit of putting on a yearly performance to raise money for the church.

After missing last year due to scheduling conflicts, the tradition is back by popular demand. The church also serves dinner before the performance.

The tickets sold help the church to raise money, while also entertaining the public. Jean Peglow e-mails the group small summaries and then a play is decided on. The church purchases the script books and pays per performance.

Sometimes the script requires tweaking to keep it both appropriate for church and family-friendly. The shows are sell-outs almost every year and the group stresses that this is a community event, not just a church event.

“We want everyone to know that people who go to church can have fun,” said Iva McKenna.

Iva McKenna, playing Margaret Mason, applies makeup to her husband, George McKenna, for his role as Edna Mae Carter.

This year the play was a comedy mystery requiring audience participation. This is the first time the church has ever performed a murder mystery and the first time they have asked for audience participation.

Previous years have varied greatly including a western and a radio show. The shows have always been a comedy. The group begins practicing in January to prepare for a late February or early March show under the direction of Alice Mathes.

The show for this year was “Just Desserts” written by Craig Sodaro. The curmudgeonly old Judge Cogsworth is reluctantly judging a baking contest. The winner will receive $1,000 for a charity of her choice.

Three women are chosen to bake goods for the competition: Edna Mae Carter, Lucy “Scooter” Bright and Margaret Mason. The contest begins, but things turn sour when suddenly the judge drops dead. It is then up to the audience with the help of the head of the contest, Miss Peabody, to determine which of the three contestants are the guilty party in the murder.

George McKenna recalled their early practices. “Jim couldn’t get out more than a line or two without cracking up laughing,” he said in reference to Jim Peglow who was Lucy “Scooter” Bright.

During the intermission the audience members, including Dennis Smith in red sweater, are asked to search the sanctuary for clues and listen to the testimonies of the suspected. Attentive audience members may be able to solve the mystery with the presented clues and a good eye on the situation.

Most years include the same actors and the group jokes about their amateur abilities. During the play gender pronouns are frequently confused due to men playing the role of women, lines are forgotten, and characters grab the wrong props, but all of it adds up to more audience laughter and serves the performance well instead of detracting from it. All of actors are members of the church.

“We’re just not afraid to get up and make fools of ourselves,” jokes Reed Markle.

“We really had to poison Reed. He’s not that good of an actor,” says Jim Peglow with a laugh. Pointing to George McKenna, he added, “And next year we hope we’re men.”

“I’m confused. I’m very confused. I’ve been confused the whole play,” wails Jim Peglow while still in character, but breaking the fourth wall after forgetting his lines. The other actors and the audience laugh while the director attempts to get things back on track.

The group is making one final performance of “Just Desserts” this evening at 6 p.m. The performance is not offered with dinner to make sure the kitchen crew and other family members are able to attend at least one performance. There is no cost. Parking and seats fill up quickly. The church is located at 5337 Eagle Harbor Rd.