Stage West Community Playhouse takes a new and different direction with the comedy Ax of Murder, a combination play-within-a-play and murder mystery that makes the audience part of the action.
"We've never done an audience participation (show) before," said Cheryl Roberts, the theater's publicist, who was also on the committee that selected the play last year. "It's very fast-paced, with lots of sound effects and lighting cues."
It's also fairly short, coming in at 90 minutes, plus intermission.
In it, theater director Bonnie Bagwell (Mickey Mandel) has brought together a troupe of actors and technicians to choose their next production.
As they gather around a table on the partly dismantled set of a former production, playwright Colin Chambers (Patrick Gonzalez, Don John in Much Ado About Nothing) arrives with a bag full of scripts, including his latest creation, a play he calls Ax of Murder.
Colin discourages the group from reading the play, claiming that it's haunted. The actors are skeptical — and curious — and start reading anyway.
All is fun and games until the actors start getting the feeling that the play they are reading mirrors the theater where they're sitting, and the characters sound and look like some of the people on the stage.
When aggressive police Sgt. Mike (Peter Clapsis, Sidney in Deathtrap) shows up saying he has been called in to investigate a real murder, the players grow a tad uneasy. When the lights flicker and someone is actually murdered on stage, the fear mounts, and suspects are everywhere, including members of the acting troupe.
They include the cowardly Lucille (Emilee Andrade), pushy Taylor (Star Verosic, Barbara in Run for Your Wife), gofer Darlene (Caroline Logsted) and pompous Delia (Chris Venable).
There are also the wisecracking Brady (Mitchell Gonzalez, Billy in Anything Goes), Brady's long-suffering wife, Phaedra (Megan Perry, Deirdre in I Hate Hamlet), theater technician Phil Jenkins (Dave Stenger, Moonface in Anything Goes), and his sidekick Midge (Heather Brosi).
In murder mystery tradition, there is also a suspicious-looking countrified cleaning lady, Marilu (Liz Vorhees), and her hick boyfriend, Billy Bob (Ryan Rogers, Sir Evelyn in Anything Goes).
One prime suspect, of course, is the mandatory theater ghost, who could be summoned with the help of a psychic named Cassandra Tyree (Elizabeth Cramton), an expert in ESP.
"All of this can be read as a play on words," is the only hint that Ms. Roberts would give. "We'll let people come see for themselves."