The Panhandle Players will present this weekend its second show of the season, a comic mystery written actor-director Royce Rolstad, III, whose first play premiered last season.
Following up on his “Murder at the Gibson," Rolstad’s latest work, “Murder at the Chapman,” will be performed Friday and Saturday evenings, Feb. 8 and 9, and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 10, at the Chapman Auditorium in Apalachicola.
“I had such a blast writing my first show, I was eager to write another one,” said Rolstad “This show is a satirical murder-mystery, based on community theatre life.”
A seasoned actor and director whose favorite genres in both film and live theatre are murder-mysteries and thrillers, Rolstad based his new show on the premise that a theatre troupe, rehearsing an upcoming murder-mystery, has to confront an actual murder in their midst. The surviving members of the cast and crew struggle to figure out how the murder took place and who the killer is, all while trying to keep from killing one another other in the process.
Rolstad wrote the main script, but freely allowed his actors to add new lines and stage directions as rehearsals progressed from their start in early December. “For me, producing a show is a collaborative process between me and the actors,” he said. “I want the actors to feel as though they have been able to contribute something to the show beyond just acting, or being directed to go here or there on the stage."
The show is filled with a cast of characters typically found in a community or professional theatre setting. “I have been doing community theater since I was a senior in high school,” said Rolstad, 36. “I have seen a lot of stage drama in that time. This play brings to life some of the things I have seen and heard over the years but with a murder thrown in.”
The demanding director is played by David Stedman, the deep-pocket investors by Judy Loftus and Steve Allen, and the lead actor by Gary Niblack, who has appeared in other Panhandle Player mysteries including “The Mousetrap.”
Other characters include a flamboyant understudy, played by Bob Caiola, who claims to have done Shakespeare and who interjects one-liners between the seriousness of solving the murder. Jeana Crozier plays the head of the troupe’s board of directors, who’s more concerned about the dark cloud looming over the show than the fact a murder’s taken place. Megan Shiver, as the house manager, leads the charge in solving the murder, serving as a reality-check for the troupe.
Panhandle Players newcomer Faith Lynch plays the diva, a character based on Rolstad’s real life experience. “I was told a story one time about a local actress who thought she was going to get her own dressing room and didn’t,” he said. “When she had to share the dressing room with other actresses she took their clothes off the hangars, threw them on the floor and hung her clothes up.
“That is such a diva move, so I had to put in a character like that,” Rolstad said.
Bob Inguagiato plays the set-builder with a hair-trigger temper, who gets frustrated with the director and threatens to quit, also based on a Panhandle Players story.
Eric Olson, who made his Players’ debut in “Secrets & Sweet Tea, ” the opening show of the 2018-19 season, rounds out the cast as the local reporter, who sneaks around trying to get gossip on the production but instead gets a better story when the murder happens.
The show’s simple set uses only a few panels in the four corners of the stage, with a couch center stage along with a few chairs. Other props include a ladder, paint cans, and a few tools, designed as a half-completed set being built for the upcoming production.
“All pieces of a show are important,” said Rolstad, seasoned in all aspects of live theatre. “From the lighting, to what songs are played during the acts; every part of the production plays a crucial role to the overall theme of the show.”
Rolstad said he’s changed the characters’ names to “protect the innocent and guilty. Any similarity to real-life individuals living or dead is purely coincidental.”
“I’m a fan of surprises and twists and this show wouldn’t be complete without them,” he said. “Theatergoers need to be on their toes, or at least on the edge of their seats.”
Tickets are $15 for general admission, and are available online at PanhandlePlayers.com or at the door. This show does contain some spicy language, but is appropriate for most all ages.
Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. The box office opens one-hour prior to curtain. Any questions call 850-296-6952.