Audience in on the action during ‘Pontius Pilate’ play
That Community Players of Nevada County director Ken Harris never played the Clue board game is ironic.
“Pontius Pilate’s Birthday Party,” a play he co-wrote 12 years ago and has directed for a Grass Valley dinner theater fund-raiser the next two weekends, has similarities to the classic board game. In the play, Pilate is murdered at his own birthday party and the audience is encouraged to figure out who killed Pilate.
“Everybody has a motive, everybody had a means and everyone had the opportunity,” Harris said Monday, “but only one actually did it.”
Pilate (played by Johnathon Gangemi) was an unpopular governor in an unimportant Roman province returning to Rome in 53 A.D., Harris noted.
“He’s horrible. When Pilate dies, everyone sings ‘happy days are here again,” the scriptwriter/director added.
Those singing words of relief are Olivia, Pilate’s wife (Barbara Le Blanc); Herod Antippas (Parker White) and his wife Ascarid (Lindsey Robinson White); soothsayer Tempestua (Ronna Lee Joseph); Pectoralis Excesivus (Skip Tyrrell); Greek singer Terpsichore (Margot Malone); Calypigia Queen of the Nile (Maureen Peake); the worst Roman Empire actor Peristalsis (M. Timothy Murray); Gunther The Gaul (Hal Jorgensen); Stertorius (Jack Meeks) and his wife Cephalalgia (Trudy Tyrrell); dancing slave Calamatus (Kathrina Rose) and Madame Mimi (Beverly Marks).
Unlike the game of Clue in which the victim is murdered behind the scenes, however, the play’s audience members witness the murder.
“Everyone sees the clues. We murder Pilate right in front of everybody. But it’s done so cleverly the audience doesn’t realize what happened until it happens,” Harris teased. “To quote the soothsayer (Rona Joseph), ‘they have eyes but they don’t see.'”
Cast and audience improvise with each other throughout the show, beginning at 6 p.m. when they share bruschetta salvatore and antipasto appetizers and drinks. The play opens at 6:30 p.m., followed by a full-course honey roasted ham dinner at 7:15 p.m. The play resumes an hour later when Pilate dies in the middle of opening his presents, leaving all the guests to solve the mystery before dessert (amaretti with flavored mascarpone dessert).
“I always choose a live wire from the audience,” Harris promised. “That keeps the actors on their toes. When the doors open at 6, Herod and all the others have to be dressed and in character.”
A retired junior high school teacher, Harris is used to putting listeners in the spotlight. “Someone in the audience can expect to dance at the spur of the moment. It’s a wild night,” promised a grinning Harris.
Dinner theater proceeds will help fund Community Players’ “South Pacific” production set for July at the Center for the Arts.
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With under a week before fall starts, Grass Valley is experiencing much cooler weather, the National Weather Service said.