Annual murder mystery play returns to the Wilburton Inn

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MANCHESTER — Getting away with the murder of a legendary Northshire business tycoon? Guests dressing up to indulge their inner sleuth? Following clues with a cast of actors around a stately mansion to solve a mystery at an Edwardian funeral?



It sounds a bit like a clich straight out of PBS's long running Masterpiece Mystery series.



But it isn't. Rather, it's about as down home and Vermont as you can get, but just from another time.



Welcome to "Mystery in the Mountains," a full blown dinner and play hosted annually by the Wilburton Inn. This year's edition will take place on the evening of Nov 4.



Family innkeeper and New York City playwright Tajlei Levis uses the Wilburton's rich history as the milieu for the annual creative sleuthing, with plots that keep everyone guessing as guests mingle and dine with the cast, and collaborate just exactly whodunit.



"My mysteries tend to be interactive romantic comedies," Levis said recently between cast rehearsals. "Songs from the era will be curated by musical director Brian Drutman."



This year's play, "A Vodka Shot in the Dark," takes place in November 1917. On the other side of the globe, the Russian Revolution has exploded across the steppes and The U.S. has recently joined the Great War.



Meanwhile, back in Manchester, George Orvis, owner of the Equinox Hotel as well as hotels in New York and Florida, is suffering his own quandaries. The Equinox is overrun with Russian migr s as well as members of European royalty absconding from the war.



All sorts of things are happening in this latest series installment. Orvis' wife Louise has political ambitions. Meanwhile, his brother Charles thinks fishing is the answer to all the world's evils (think fly-fishing, naturally). George himself is an agreeable type, and would rather golf, but his foursome is cantankerous, and their caddy is threatening to quit.



But then wait! Then there's the little matter of the body in the pond of George Orvis himself.



The actual death was originally written off at the time as Orvis was said to have "struck his head on a rock when diving from a spring board," wrote his 1917 obituary in the Manchester Journal.



Playwright Levis, giddy over the mystery's prospects, gave a preview of some of the interactive aspects of the show, which is one of its well-known hallmarks



"Audience members will attend the gala funeral for George Orvis, mingling with the actors throughout," Levis said. "They will learn songs and dance steps from the era, participate in political debate, meet refugee royalty, and might even get a lesson in fishing from the legendary Mr. Charles Orvis."



Guests are highly encouraged to dress in costume of the era, Levis added.



"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 audience will work together in teams to solve the mystery."



Musical director Drutman said that he was brought on board a few years back and has enjoyed the collaboration with the Levis family.



"The more Tajlei and I talked about my involvement, the more we explored the great possibilities of my playing a role in the show," Drutman said. "But even more significantly, my playing piano would be part of the show, accompanying the actors in particular songs and providing general musical atmosphere and entertainment as an integral part of the show."



Drutman continued to say that he has "a particular love and affinity" for The Great American Songbook and music of early decades in the United States.



"So many of the Murder Mysteries are set in in a historic period, so it's fun to try and find historically appropriate songs which will work in the context of the plot which Tajlei has written," he said.



Tajlei's sister, innkeeper Melissa Levis, noted that audience members are both overnight guests at the Wilburton, and members of the general public who come to attend just the evening.



"The murder mystery is very popular and typically sells out late, so interested parties should contact us as soon as possible," Melissa said.



Both the Levis sisters and Drutman had a united front of excitement, expressed by the playwright herself:



"We hope everyone has fun, makes new friends, shares a laugh, a delicious meal, and learns something about our history," Tajlei said.



"A Vodka Shot in the Dark" will take place on Nov. at 6:30 p.m., at The Wilburton Inn. The Inn is located at 257 Wilburton Drive off River Road, in Manchester Village. Murder Mystery Dinner tickets are $70 and include a gourmet dinner and champagne toast. Call to inquire on discounted tickets for groups of 8 or more. Full bar available. Call 802-362-2500 for reservations. For a video peek at last year's mystery, visit wilburtoninn.com.



Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at tchalkias@aol.com or on Twitter: @TellyHalkias






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