Murder mystery on the Battenkill
The butler did it. Or maybe it was the farmer. Or the banker. Or maybe even -- gasp -- the daughter.
Those who enjoy a good murder mystery "whodunit" will get to take that interest to the next level on Saturday, Nov. 2, when the Wilburton Inn will provide the setting for not only a tasty dinner, but the opportunity for guests to unravel who might have been responsible for causing the untimely death of one A. M. Gilbert, who in real life was a wealthy railroad tycoon from Chicago and a close friend of Robert Todd Lincoln, the former President's son and the builder of Hildene.
Historical fact and fiction will merge for an evening of fine dining and sleuthing, as the inn presents an interactive mystery dinner party based to a degree on some local history.
"Murder in the Mountains" is a production designed to combine good food, fun and an opportunity for those attending to unlock their inner detective and play Inspector Poirot for an evening, said Melissa Levis, who is producing the event. She is returning to Manchester following several years as an entertainer in New York to help run the family inn.
It won't be the first such time a murder mystery dinner will have been held at the Wilburton, Levis said.
"We come from a theatrical family," she said. "My sister and I staged shows all the time as kids. When we got the inn 26 years ago my mom put on these murder mysteries every couple of years."
Her sister, Tajlei Levis, a playwright with several productions to her credit and whose musical, "The Bootlegger and the Rabbi's Daughter," was read this summer at the Dorset Theatre Festival, wrote the play that the mystery dinner party will be based on.
Gilbert was Lincoln's next door neighbor who constructed the nearby Wilburton Inn in 1902, after winning the property, originally known as "Strawberry Hill," from a farmer in a poker game. Or so the story goes. He died in 1908, with his fortune lost.
But the night of Nov. 2 will see some creative license taken with the actual historical narrative in the interests of spinning a good detective drama.
As the dinner guests arrive, the legendary poker game between Gilbert and the farmer will be in progress. Ostensibly, the guests are there for the card game, music and cocktails. They overhear snippets of the conversation around the card table. It's still 1900, and the inn hasn't been built yet. Gilbert wins, announces his plans to construct an inn, but before dinner is served, he dies. Mysteriously.
Fast forward to 1902, two years later, and now the guests are here for the dinner at the now constructed inn. It's theater, so a little suspension of belief is in order. Now the topic of the night is "who killed poor Mr. Gilbert." Some of the players in the game will circulate around the dinner tables, feeding the (real life) dinner guests some tidbits of information. Some of it may even be reliable.
After dinner, the guests will retire to the living room, and each table will appoint a "detective." Together every one will have a chance to develop a theory of the case and hopefully "solve" it.
There are no shortage of possible suspects. There's the farmer, for one, angry about losing his land. But suspicion might also fall on Gilbert's daughter, the beguiling Louise Gilbert, who was engaged to (and in real life later married) a man who built what came to be known as the Olde English Inn on River Road, adjacent to the Wilburton. The building was constructed for Louise's wedding, Melissa Levis said.
However, the course of true love failed to run smoothly, and Louise would wind up running off with another man, creating a major scandal.
Louise then, also had a motive to murder her not-so-dear-old Dad -- revenge for pushing her into an unwanted marriage, and the prospect of inheriting his wealth before she could be disowned for her shocking behavior.
The night of "Murder in the Mountains," Louise will be played by the professional actress Alysia Reiner, who in real life portrays a character in the Netflix drama "Orange is the New Black." She has several other movie and television acting credits as well.
The butler -or rather a character disguised as a butler - will be played by Reiner's real life husband, the actor David Alan Basche, who fans of the television show "Law and Order" may recognize. Basche also has a long list of acting credits to his name, including appearances in several movies by some of Hollywood's top film directors, as well as television appearances such as "CSI:Miami," "Frasier" and "30 Rock."
So did the butler - who for the purposes of the play is really a New York City impresario with designs on the fetching Louisa - do it? His motivation is obvious and as old as the hills.
Another possible character to consider is James Wilbur, a Chicago banker who held the mortgage on Gilbert's mansion. Maybe he wants the house for himself, if Gilbert was no longer in the picture.
All told, there are about 10 possible suspects the real life dinner guests will have to sort through, with the assistance of a fictional Robert Todd Lincoln, who wants to find out who killed his friend, neighbor and business associate.
Sheila Childs, well known to many for her work in local theater, will be directing the drama, which -- in real life -- starts at 6 p.m on Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Wilburton Inn.
Tickets to the dinner cost $40, and can be reserved by calling 802-362-2500.
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