BWW Reviews: Vote For A CANDIDATE FOR MURDER at Allenberry Resort and Playhouse
[Author's note: I attended the murder mystery in November, though the season has not ended. Some notes may not be entirely up to date. Notes were delayed pending photography from Allenberry.]
Allenberry is known to many in Central Pennsylvania as a theatre, Allenberry Playhouse. And almost all of those people know its food, served not in a dinner theatre setting but in a separate restaurant in Fairfield Hall, which makes it considerably more pleasant than most dinner theatre-type establishments - and the food at Allenberry, these days, is considerably better than most dinner theatre cuisine. Fewer people, however, are really aware that Allenberry also has lodging - and food, theatre, and lodging at Allenberry are combined for several months of the year in Allenberry's Murder Mystery Weekends. This year's MMW storyline is A CANDIDATE FOR MURDER, written by Jacqueline Heinze, which is certainly more amusing and more unpredictable than the actual political campaigns of the year outside the Allenberry environs.
The one part of the weekend that may not suit all as well as one might like is the lodging. These are older buildings, and those with multiple floors do not have elevators. If you have any walking or climbing issues or have to wrangle luggage, you may wish to request first-floor rooms. All of the rooms are decorated individually, which is charming but may be inconvenient for some - in the building I was in, some units had shower stalls while others had extremely small bathtubs, and some had writing tables while others had no usable tables at all; this reviewer's laptop was perched on the edge of a bed while a chair had to be dragged to the bed in order to type. (The WiFi in the buildings, however, works quite well.)
Beverages are in the lodge lobbies rather than in the individual rooms, and in Stone Lodge, at any rate, an entire pot of coffee had to be brewed even if only one person wanted coffee - perhaps one-cup coffee makers such as Keurig or Tassimo might be an economy in such circumstances. Housekeeping may also be an issue - my room had visible staining on bedspreads, and the bedside table's drawer had not been cleaned from the leavings of a previous guest. Granted, however - the beds I tested were extremely comfortable and I slept very well; I merely hoped that the other linens were cleaner than the bedspreads. I decided not to use the drawer. Had I had free time, I would most likely have complained about the room's cleanliness, but I'm not sure that other rooms would have been greatly better.
The show, in a murder mystery weekend format, surrounds the audience. Actors are on-the-spot full time, playing the characters in the story - here, several political candidates, their friends and romantic partners, members of the press, and campaign staff. In order to assure that none of the weekend's audience misses any of the main parts of the performance (and the requisite number of deaths), major performances containing dialogue, major clues, and action are scheduled during group meals... which means that the meals are very busy and very frequent. The feeding schedule, and the sheer amount of food, can only be approximated to cruise ship proportions: continental breakfasts are served to make sure the guests make it to brunch; informal tea is followed almost immediately by a cocktail party followed immediately by dinner.
The quantities and frequency of food cannot be overstated - it is impossible to starve, and likely that you may explode. The first rule you will be taught by veterans of the weekends - repeat visitors are ubiquitous - is that you must hold back at the cocktail party or you will never be able to eat dinner. That is somewhat difficult because the amount of food at the cocktail party will convince you that it is actually dinner - mounds of steamed shrimp and half-shells, carving stations laden with meat, and perpetually-refilling tables of appetizer items suggest that third and fourth appetizer plates loaded with food are perfectly reasonable. If it helps, imagine that you're on a cruise ship that's docked in Boiling Springs. (Vegetarians were well-accommodated but if you have other food issues such as allergies or gluten/dairy intolerance, notify Allenberry in advance for the best service. Peanut allergies may be a problem.)
Once you have accepted that it is your major duty for the weekend to survive the feeding frenzy, you can relax and enjoy your status as a Visiting Voter in Boiling Springs, PA, where it's time to elect a new mayor -- in order to guarantee that people show up at the polls, you've been imported from out of town to be wined, dined, and entertained by the various candidates who are soliciting your vote. Never mind that the outgoing mayor has just been murdered... or that a former candidate has literally lost his head while at the opening cocktail party. Deputy Sheriff Trainee Alfie Little (Ryan Roets) is there to protect you from whoever's knocking off the political elite of Boiling Springs.
Borough Councilwoman Candy Kant (Lauren Ballard) is there to bribe her way into your heart with her boxes of candy, and opposition candidate Joe Zip (Michael Hudson Heath) might not be as stupid as he looks. Somewhat intrepid reporter Rog Jacquard (Roque Berlanga, possibly the crowd-favorite character) hopes to make his journalistic career off of the Boiling Springs political murders, seeing them as a ticket out of Boiling Springs and into the lucrative world of celebrity gossip reporting... but he's easily distracted. He also has the best legs in Boiling Springs, but you'll have to discover that first-hand, if you can pry him away from his newly favorite mayoral candidate.
There's nothing like the political campaigning that happens at small town carnivals, and in order to remind you of that, there's even a local carnival, with games, stump speeches, parade cars, and plenty of (you've been warned already) carnival snacks - I will personally vouch for the deliciousness of the peanut-coated caramel apples. Just watch out for the weather - it may be raining bullets while you're there.
To keep track of all the excitement, there's even a daily newspaper delivered to your room - it's full of weather notes, updates on the mayhem that is the mayoral campaign, and exclusive reports by vaguely daring pressman Rog Jacquard. Trying to hold Boiling Springs together as the last non-deceased official in town is elections official Goody Truston (Michelle Dvozenja), who manages to maintain a state of near-calmness for most of the proceedings. But is it she, Candy, or Joe Zip's campaign manager, Lyla Downing (Rebecca E.G. Hayes) who really has the inside goods on what's happening in the Boiling Spings municipal government? And just why has the mayor's estranged son, Woody (Andrew Thomas) shown up now of all times, possibly disrupting the election?
Even though children love mysteries, this is probably not the most family-friendly event. There are plenty of late-evening/late-night activities and some mature themes (a considerable amount of sexual innuendo, referenced adultery and other sexual activity, a gay relationship, nicely handled and positively presented, and there's some humorous drag - use your judgment for yourself, not just for any minors), and a number of activities that might be hampered by too much interactivity from greatly younger attendees. Some of the most interesting things in the weekend that are likely to be far too attractive to much younger children could be dangerous to them or to others if they get too close. For everyone's, including cast and crew's, benefit as well as theirs, I'd keep certain pre-teens at home (parents of kids who can't restrain themselves, you know who you are) - and if anyone's under 21, there's a considerable amount of alcoholic temptation to be avoided at some events.
Your reviewer admits to one great disappointment in the midst of all of this. Murder mystery buff that she is, she is acutely familiar with the television mysteries in which a group of people attending a mystery weekend come face to face with a real murder in their group. (Are there no other "Matlock" aficionados out there?) Ghoulishly, she thinks that this would be a nice, if somewhat illegal, touch for the weekend - but it's probably best that everyone who shows up as a Visiting Voter in Boiling Springs survives to return for another weekend.
Visit www.allenberry.com for details. A CANDIDATE FOR MURDER weekends end the last weekend in April.
Photo credit: Cindy King