Prior Lake High School students put on murder-mystery play

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2014 - 2:04 PM

Along with a performance of Agatha Christie’s “Verdict, ” theatergoers at Prior Lake High School will be treated to a catered, sit-down dinner.

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Aaron Boger, right, as Prof. Karl Hendryk rehearsed with Paul Nasvik as Sir William Rollander for the play “Verdict,” opening Thursday at Prior Lake High School.

Photo: Bre McGee , Special to the Star Tribune

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This weekend, high school theater fans will have the chance to devour not just a murder mystery but a sit-down dinner, all in one evening at Prior Lake High School.

This is the first time the high school has offered a catered dinner-theater experience, complete with pork, roast beef and mashed potatoes, and director Jennifer Witt says she hasn’t heard of any other area high schools doing the same.

The dinner will be served before the performance of Agatha Christie’s melodramatic tale of unrequited love and murder in “Verdict.”

Witt, who has directed shows at PLHS since 2006, said she’s “toyed with the idea” of hosting a dinner theater for years, but because another event was always held the same weekend as the spring show, the commons area has been unavailable.

“Everything just fell together really nicely for me to do it this year,” she said.

Another first for Witt will be directing a mystery, which the school hasn’t done in 15 years.

The script “really spoke to me as something we could do here,” she said. “Each year when I make a choice of which show to do, I try to make it an educational experience as well as an entertaining one [for the students].”

With 10 students, the cast is “smaller and more intimate,” than some, but there also are four large roles, which gives more students a chance to perform, said Michele Lein, assistant director.

Patrons who bought tickets for Saturday’s sold-out dinner/theater combo also will have the most intimate seats, clustered around a rounded thrust stage that juts out into two rows of seats, Witt said.

Technical director Dave Tuma designed the set, which remains the same throughout the show, on a “very frugal” budget. He’s never created a thrust stage before, and used a turntable leftover from a previous musical to build it. “I always say, ‘They did it on Broadway. Why can’t we?’ ” he said.

The challenge of a mystery

The play’s plot centers around the Hendryks, a couple that has recently relocated to England. The husband, Karl, is a charming and successful professor, while wife, Anya, is in a wheelchair and fatally ill. Karl is soon manipulated into tutoring a wealthy, strong-willed student, Helen, who is infatuated with him.

Two deaths and a confession later, Karl turns to lifelong friend Lisa to cope, but Lisa ends up accused of murder.

As with many Agatha Christie plays, there’s lots of foreshadowing, and “everything in the show has a purpose,” said senior Taylor Strait, who plays Lisa.

While the play is alternately sad, dramatic and violent, it isn’t a comedy or a musical, which means the show isn’t broken up by jokes or rousing song-and-dance numbers, Witt said.

As a result, the cast must work hard to “keep the audience engaged and interested for that full two hours,” she said.

To do so, they must fully develop their characters, a challenge the cast said they have enjoyed doing over nine weeks of rehearsals.

Strait said her character is sophisticated, unlike the younger characters she’s played in the past. “I like that she means well but she still causes problems in the plot,” she said.

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