Verona Area High School Student Creates Marvelous New Play
Classic "Whodunit" Format and Lots of Humor Make for Unique and Successful Production
by Claire Miller, age 17 and Josie Gaieck, age 16
Josie and I recently saw the world premiere of Murther!, a play written, casted, and directed by Jacob Turner.
In a recent interview, Turner explained that Murther! is essentially about, “a girl who wants a job and becomes a maid in a strange place and people start getting ‘murthered’. It’s my twisted spoof of a ‘whodunit’.”
One of the most fascinating parts of this production is that Turner is only a sophomore at Verona Area High School.
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The girl in search of a job, Miranda (Persephone Caulkins) is a maid in the house of Agatha (Leah Montesinos) and Karl (Aidan Head) Catford. Agatha’s family is coming over for a dinner party, but other uninvited guests also arrive. These guests include Dave (Mike Gold) a snowman and an aspiring door-to-door salesman, his wife Malycivethia (Sarah Kroth), Mrs. Claus (Mary Ann Raemisch), the Mayor (Torrie Hansen), and Miranda’s sister, 27!? (Becca Kehl). Chaos ensues as people die, or get “murthered.” As the production progresses, more characters are killed in a whirlwind of confusion and accusations by the characters.
In all, Officer Catford (Hanna Nibbe), Brian (Dan Kitson), 27!?, the Mayor, Destiny (Lindsey Tindall), Malycivethia, Mrs. Claus, Dave, Grizzle (Alannah Spencer), Agatha, and Muriel (Mariele Ver Voort) are “murthered.”
It is eventually revealed that Santa Claus (Jacob Turner) is the “murtherer” and started this killing spree as a prank on an old friend. It is also later discovered that Santa Claus is able to bring people back to life, so everyone lives in the end. Except for 27!? who remained dead out on the sidewalk.
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For this performance, Mr. Steve Nibbe, head of the theater department and a teacher at Verona, suggested that Turner do a staged reading, rather than a full-blown production. Staged readings differ from regular productions as the performers sit or stand, read from a script, wear basic costumes, and work without a set. This production also included concurrent stage directions delivered by Turner.
Nibbe believes Turner is an especially gifted playwright. After the show, Turner and the cast held a short debriefing with the audience to answer questions and to get feedback. When Turner was asked about the writing process and how Murther! came to be, he explained that the play began as bits of inside jokes that, over time, developed into a story. Eventually he pieced this story into Murther!
At first, it was a much shorter play with a small cast of about six people. But he felt it was too short and wanted to add more, later expanding the cast to fifteen people.
Turner held auditions and selected the cast based on, “Whoever made me laugh the most. [For example] Leah was originally pre-cast as a different role, but she made me laugh hardest when she read for Agatha. I just wanted to laugh.” The cast exuded chemistry. It was clear they understood Turner’s warped sense of humor. For example, the roles of Dave the snowman, and Karl Catford the vampire were both played very effectively. The actors portrayed the hysterical arguments fueled by hatred between the two characters, resulting in gun shots, hair-dryers, and lots of laughter from the audience.
There were many plot twists and unexpected turns, but none gave away the “murtherer.” At least until the end. The audience was engaged throughout with this unusual array of characters.
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There certainly was much evidence of Turner’s unique humor in this production. The play and its dialog was never boring. With the aid of a great cast who managed to bring all the characters to life, the audience was kept on the edge of their seats waiting to see who would die next, who the “murtherer” was, and, most importantly, waiting for the next hilarious twist.
In short, Turner successfully created a new and interesting story that plays off the classic “whodunit” murder mystery format.