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BENNINGTON — Bennington Community Theater continues its third season with one of the most fun murder mysteries on stage anywhere, Pat Cook's popular "You Have the Right to Remain Dead," directed by Ellery Schiller.

The play, which is a combination of whodunit and a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the mystery genre, encourages and includes audience participation, according to Jennifer Jasper, interim executive director of the Bennington Performing Art Center, where the play will run Feb 21-23.

This includes two evening performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and two matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Jasper added that the production is in line with BPAC's ongoing emphasis on local engagement, citing that the play's director, Schiller, is a college intern getting experience in leading a staged work.

"I'm excited that we have a Bennington College student who is using their field work to work with the theater community," Jasper said. "This speaks to the community outreach we are striving for and hope for many more opportunities in the future."

The play is a first go at directing for the local college junior. The job with the BCT will count for credit toward Schiller's field work term, a six-week winter interregnum long a hallmark at Bennington College.

"I have a little directing experience," Schiller said recently after a day of rehearsals. "I've done theater education in the past, working with an organization called Philly Young Playwrights. They go into schools and teach students to write plays about what they want to put out to the world. I've also done some play writing and producing plays with Philly Young Playwrights."

For a first time with adult actors in a full production, the young director couldn't have picked a more fun experience.

A narrator starts the action, giving the audience some clues on what to look for. Fat Daddy is a rich but spiteful Southerner with a similarly devious and treacherous family. It'll be pretty easy to tell who's going to be killed to get the action going, but whodunit?

Is it Sweet Mama, Daddy's pandering wife; Hyacinth, the daughter who's always polishing the family firearms; Earl the worm, or his amorous wife, Savannah; or Clete, the sullen handyman who, for some reason, is in the will?

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Other twists and turns ensue, piled on with intrigue and misdirection. At this point audience members have to figure things out. Not only are they questioning the cast, but the cast also questions the audience who suddenly become suspects?

David Motta, a relative novice with the BCT who plays Fat Daddy, said everyone in the theater, both on stage and in attendance, is in for sleuthing, and laughter. He also lauded the BCT experience as unifying and enjoyable.

"I've been doing community theater for about a year, and it's fun to see how [everyone] work[s] on a craft that is more than just one person" Motta said. "It's nice to come together and do something more than you can do on your own. [BCT] has been really professional and it's fun doing something so special."

BPAC board member and community theater committee chair Mark Blank said that 2020 is "a very exciting year" for the amateur troupe, now in its third season. He noted that the current production is being incorporated as a Year of Mystery event, naming the local Baker Street Breakfast Club's 2020 year-long celebration of the genre.

"Community theater and mystery play go hand in hand, and are natural partners," Blank said. "`You Have the Right to Remain Dead' is an interactive mystery comedy-drama. It's a play within a play, and the audience will be involved. There's lots of fourth wall breaking and I think everyone who comes will have a great time."

Along with Motta, the cast includes Robert Ebert, Drew Davidson, Donna Motta, Mary Jo Greco, Tess McHugh, Michelle Marrocco, Carlene Bermann, Danny Townsend and Amanda Reagan. Many of the actors play two parts.

The production staff includes producer Jana Lillie, stage manager Melissa Hepler and assistant stage manager Tony Conner.

In all, director Schiller spoke for the players in forecasting the fun factor inherent in BCT's show.

"At the end of the day, theater is a participatory art," Schiller said. "That's one of the fun parts of this play. We're really asking the audience to up that participation, to the point where they are part of the production."

Award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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