The Oklahoma Road Middle School drama club will be serving mystery and mayhem with spaghetti and meatballs in the cafeteria tonight and tomorrow evening.
In this dinner theater, the menu is Italian and the show is slightly slapstick. The cast doubles as the wait staff and promises to draw the audience into Who Poisoned His Meatball? - an interactive murder mystery by Craig Sodaro. The club chose the two-act play for its dramatic debut and selected dinner fare that would complement the plot.
At intermission, everyone will have a chance to solve the mystery. The first to identify the villain wins a gift certificate to a popular Italian restaurant near the Eldersburg school. The cast includes several suspects, including a snoopy reporter with a hidden camera, a starving artist and the victim's meddlesome mother-in-law.
"I don't think anybody will be able to guess," said Anthony Baker, who plays the victim, Nero Sharpe. "I like being in front of large groups, and I love my character."
Anthony, whose stage experience is limited to a vocal solo in elementary school, said he really gets into his pompous character.
To give the show a local flavor, Anthony made Nero the richest man in Eldersburg, and he mentions in an aside that Nero wears only "et tu brute" after-shave. Nero's dinner date, Arlene D'Amore, spends most of the show tossing her lime green boa over her shoulder and spilling office secrets.
Dressed in a black top hat and leather jacket, Katie Dell plays house manager and master of ceremonies.
"I really like public speaking," she said. "Besides, this is a good cause."
Proceeds will go to the school's computer lab, the cost of which hasn't been estimated.
"We are hoping for a wireless computer lab and laptops that can move all around the school," said Kate Ferguson, director and eighth-grade English teacher.
With all the tickets sold, at $12 each, the show could raise about $2,000 for the computer campaign. A talent show last year added $3,000 to the effort.
Courtney Pugh, who plays a few parts and "always wanted to be an actress," sees the play as means to an end.
"This way I can act and give back to the school," said Courtney, who will be in high school next year. "The lab will be great for the sixth- and seventh-graders. I will come back and see it."
When the villain tries to make a getaway in the final scene, the script calls for a weapon. The director substituted a salad shooter for a fake revolver.
"We were trying for the ridiculous," Ferguson said.
Scandal, divorce, murder and plumbing problems - a malfunctioning garbage disposal - spice up the plot. The show includes miscues, shenanigans and a stage curtain that occasionally sticks.
"Just keep talking until the curtain falls," Ferguson tells the cast.
About 30 students make up the cast and crew. They all helped make the props, backdrop and centerpieces - small Italian flags planted in clay pots decorated with ribbons. The group also put together programs, rehearsed for three months and sold the tickets.
As soon as classes end today, students will transform the school cafeteria into Luigi's Fine Italian Dining. They will reconfigure the tables to offer the best view of the stage. A cardboard archway painted and wrapped in faux grapevines will mark the entry. Dimmed lights will enhance the ambience.
The players left the cooking to the cafeteria's regular staff. While the audience dines on platefuls of pasta topped with tomato sauce and meatballs, Luigi will serve the cast clay and paper replicas of the entree. The ersatz salad and the laminated menus came from the same stock of dark green paper.
"This is a real collaborative effort," Ferguson said.