Wilburton hosting murder mystery dinner theater
MANCHESTER — To the delight of local theater and murder mystery fans, the historic Wilburton Inn is bringing back its popular "Mystery in the Mountains" dinner theater series this Saturday.
What they'll see is the new, updated edition of "A Vodka Shot in the Dark," a full-blown dinner and play that premiered to a sold-out house in 2017, and returns with new characters and new twists to the tale.
Audience guests mingle and dine with the cast, and collaborate to learn whodunit. Family innkeeper and New York City playwright Tajlei Levis said that guests for the evening follow a cast of actors through the 1902 Wilburton mansion to solve a mystery inspired by real events from Manchester's history.
"By popular request, we're bringing back this musical mystery," Levis said. "It's inspired by the unsolved suspicious death of George Orvis in Equinox Pond in 1917."
"A Vodka Shot in the Dark," is set in November 1917. On the other side of the globe, the Russian Revolution has exploded across the steppes and the United States has recently joined the Great War.
In Manchester, George Orvis, owner of the Equinox Hotel, has his own predicaments to deal with. The Equinox is overrun with Russian migr s as well as members of European royalty escaping from the war. In the middle of this mayhem, Orvis himself ends up dead, floating in the hotel's pond.
According to Orvis' 1917 obituary in the Manchester Journal, the death was originally assumes an accident, as Orvis apparently "struck his head on a rock when diving from a spring board."
George's wife, Louise Orvis, won't let the death of her husband — or the arrival of Uncle Charles Orvis, inventor of the fly-reel — slow her ambitious plans for the Equinox. But the ma tre d' and the hotel guests underfoot have their own plans.
To add a contemporary twist, an important local election is just a few days away. Will the suffragettes be able to vote? Will the Russians influence the outcome? And who killed George Orvis?
New York City actor Letitia Scordino, now living in Dorset, said the Wilburton gave her a creative outlet in which to perform. She also has founded the Manchester Equity Players, who offer staged theatrical readings.
Scordino said her acting in the mystery series and work with her Equity group is highly complementary.
"I've performed in all the murder mysteries written by Tajlei Levis and started an acting company, The Manchester Players, that offers staged readings," Scordino said. "The same acting principles in the murder mysteries are applied in our staged readings. The mysteries are very therapeutic for me as there are [very few] rehearsals, which would scare most actors, but I find it an emboldening adventure."
Local professional stage actor Peter Langstaff is looking forward to that dynamic, as he is one of the new actors brought in to play multiple parts.
"I'm playing Charles Orvis, uncle to George Orvis who has just been murdered, in the first act," Langstaff said. "In the second act, we somehow go back in time one day, and I become George Orvis, shortly before he is murdered. The play has some funny references to events surrounding our current administration, in spite of the fact that this takes place in Manchester in 1917."
Theresa Kloos, a New York City actor who has been in past Wilburton mysteries, said that she will be playing Annie-Stasia Stroganov, a Russian woman on a mission to become a huge star in America. She added that the inn is the perfect place to stage an interactive period piece.
"The Wilburton Inn is such a beautiful space and the murder mystery is different than almost any other performance experience audiences can enjoy," Kloos said. "They are totally a part of the show, and it's interactive and fun. It adds up to delicious food, good music and so many great performances."
Guests are highly encouraged to dress in costume of the era.
"This may include Edwardian gowns, imperial crowns, and fishing attire, if desired," Levis said. "This, so they become part of the action as they dine and mingle with the cast, and interview them to learn their secrets and motives."
The cast is rounded out by Roger Aberth, Egizio Panetti, Maggie Lacey and Bill Heck, with Michael Garvey as musical director.
Playwright Levis, who shares innkeeper duties with her sister, award-winning musical artist Melissa Levis, said because of the one-time performances, the shows tend to sell out quickly, and recommended those interested call for reservations.
"We hope everyone has fun, makes new friends, shares a laugh, a delicious meal, and learns something about our history," Levis said.
"A Vodka Shot in the Dark" will take place on April 14 at 6:30 p.m., at The Wilburton Inn, 257 Wilburton Drive, Manchester Village. Tickets are $70 and include a gourmet dinner and champagne toast. Call to inquire on discounted tickets for groups of eight or more. Full bar available. Call 802-362-2500 for reservations. A percentage of ticket sales from will benefit the Manchester Historical Society. This event is part of Vermont Arts 2018, a project of the Vermont Arts Council.
Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at email@example.com or on Twitter: @TellyHalkias
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