Audience solves mystery
The Baldwin City Theatre is headlining a handful of performances in September and October twice teaming up with the Midland Railway. The first, "Murder on the Midland," completed a two-day run this weekend aboard the excursion train.
The group now has time to take a quick breath before preparing for the Maple Leaf Melodrama, The Haunted Train and an appearance at the Kansas Sampler Festival all in October.
Fortunately, the more the Baldwin City Theatre works, the more volunteers it attracts, said Kathy Davis, co-producer of "Murder on the Midland."
"The more activities we have, the more people want to be involved," Davis said.
The mystery train a first for the theater group attracted a local and regional audience of 70-90 people (90 was the maximum allowed) for each show.
"It was well accepted and well attended," Davis said. "It was great."
The script for "Murder on the Midland" was written by Todd Miller and set in Baldwin in the 1920s. The story had a taste of Hollywood, but Baldwin was quite capable of producing scandal that could lead to murder and characters who were likable and suspicious all at once.
"The script was adapted from information we gave Miller," said Davis of Miller, who is from the Dead Ringers Playhouse in the Kansas City area.
The mystery, which relied on the audience to solve the crime of two murders, started on solid ground in front of the depot where cast members (who soon became murder suspects) were introduced.
And the suspects, er ... cast members, were:
Lawrence Midland (Shane Goldring), a young lad who hosted the evening, and who had a gambling habit.
Alice Midland (Ed Lammers), Lawrence's mother.
Cecil Rockland (Pat Pouliot), a cattle baron with a fondness for food.
Mabel Rockland (Jan Cooper), a silent film star and Cecil's new wife (she obviously married him for the money).
Pepper Rose (Star Novak), a clueless actress who usually isn't given any lines.
Burger Sinclair (Michael Boring), the Baldwin police commissioner.
"Fast Cat" Wallingford (Ed Lammers), a band leader and club owner.
Horace (Ed Lammers), a train porter with hair like George Washington's.
Most of the characters were rich and famous or at least thought they were and were invited to attend the premiere of "Lost Love on the Norwood Express" at the grand opening of the Norwood Theatre.
However, "Fast Cat" collapsed during a jazz performance before the train departed and the police commissioner declared it murder by cyanide he could detect the tell-tale smell of "burnt almonds" coming from the victim's mouth. And everyone was a suspect.
To keep all the suspects together, they were directed onto the train, where their dislikes for each other became apparent. Before the train departed, the audience searched for clues (cyanide, horse tranquilizer, a fly swatter, an empty bottle of ink) around the depot to help them solve the crime. And during a stop at Norwood just when Alice Midland was about to reveal the probable murderer Mrs. Midland grasped her neck and died. Once again the police commissioner declared it murder by a dart blown by someone outside of the train.
Fingers started pointing, and the audience started asking questions to solve the crimes. They were given money $86 to discover who was 86'd to bribe the suspects for clues. And those who asked the right questions soon realized that Lawrence had worked as a taxidermist and would know about toxins including the substance that paralyzed and killed his mother. And he had motives to boot "Fast Cat" was blackmailing Lawrence, because he knew Lawrence was planning on killing his mother, who was planning to have him (Lawrence) institutionalized to keep him from gambling.
"Improv is a new thing to the Baldwin City Theatre," Davis said. "I didn't really have anybody that had a claim to fame for improv. It was amazing to watch how it became more natural to the cast. And the cast had an awesome time."
The Baldwin City Theater is moving its efforts straight to the melodrama, "Fast Train to the Poor House," at the Maple Leaf Festival the third weekend of October. Auditions for the melodrama with a mostly youth cast were held over the weekend and on Monday.
Davis said volunteers have been working for months on The Haunted Train, another pairing with the Midland Railway at the end of October.
"The cooperation between the Midland and the theater is great," Davis said.
But that's not all. The theater is already planning its dinner theater in February; a cabaret in March, and its 10th summer musical, which will be "Annie."
The Midland Railway is also keeping with a busy schedule. Excursion trains depart Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays through October, and a special "rail fans" weekend is Saturday and Sunday.