Ken Coy and Vanessa Goodthunder rehearsed for “B-I-N-G-O Spells Murder,” an intractive comedy, at St. Thomas Becket Catholic Church.

Photos by Liz Rolfsmeier • Special to the Star Tribune,

Michael R. Morningstar, who says he’s an introvert, says his coworkers are sometimes surprised to find out that he acts in the theater company.

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Eagan troupe offers mystery and laughs

  • Article by: LIZ ROLFSMEIER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • March 1, 2014 - 4:57 PM

Father O’Sullivan is frantic. The bank is about to foreclose on his church and the Our Lady of Almost Lost Causes orphanage. He’s contending with developers trying to convert the place into condos, a young couple wanting to get married, a mobster nosing about, and an uptight bookkeeper. The priest’s efforts to raise money — through an Absolution Car Wash, a “Sweat for Father O’Sullivan” aerobics marathon and a Bingo night — are thwarted. The money is stolen, and someone turns up dead.

“B-I-N-G-O Spells Murder,” a fast-paced interactive comedy, is the third annual whodunit for the Eagan Theater Company, also in its third year of existence. Their first dinner theater mystery sold out, as did last year’s.

“It’s really an event,” said director Jim Anderson, of Eagan. Two years ago, they organized a casino murder mystery, and last year, they featured Irish tenors for their Irish pub mystery. This year, participants will play bingo and choose prizes from piles of wrapped gifts.

According to Kay Brown of Eagan, the group’s managing director, the little theater company of about a dozen members varies widely in age. The oldest is 92. The youngest, Vanessa Goodthunder, is 20.

Goodthunder, who plays an airheaded fiancée in the upcoming production, has acted at the University of Minnesota, where she majors in history and American Indian studies. “I just thought I’d get involved with the community I lived in because it was closer,” she said. “It’s just a hobby, but I really do love it.”

Fellow cast member Judy Marder (the bookkeeper), of Eagan, who retired three years ago, has always wanted to act. “I’m not a real actor-actor. I’m a wannabe,” she said. “It’s all about putting yourself into a different life. It’s really very freeing.”

Michael R. Morningstar of Apple Valley (Claude, the real estate developer), has acted with various community theaters and in local films. The self-described introvert said coworkers are sometimes surprised when he tacks up an announcement for a play he’s in. “I lead a boring life,” he said. “This is my outlet.”

Two years ago, Ken Coy of Inver Grove Heights (O’Sullivan), who said he’s been in about 80 plays around the Twin Cities area, started organizing 1940s-era radio dramas. The group performs at local senior centers, and they work characters such as Hedda Hopper, Mae West and Jimmy Stewart into the scripts, as well as commercials for products such as Spam and Green Giant.

Coy said senior center residents often perk up when they hear, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” the opening lines of popular radio mystery series “The Shadow.”

“I love the idea that it makes you use your imagination,” Coy said. “I think it’s a lost art.”

They’ve also performed a radio drama of “A Christmas Carol” at a local church during the past two holiday seasons, which “had the most incredible old-fashioned sound effects,” Brown said. This involved using various bells and building a door that opened and creaked.

The group will perform at the Eagan Market Fest this August, likely with some kind of variety show.

Brown said they created the company because“we have a town of 67,000, and we felt like it was time to do it.” Even though the local high school puts on summer community theater plays, “we were looking to expand during the wintertime because there’s nothing else to do,” she said, laughing.

On their wish list? More performers and, eventually, a permanent performance space.

“We don’t have a home,” Brown said. “We’re just starting to investigate.”


Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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