Attendees of the Kenai Performer’s dinner theater are in for quite the contradiction this weekend, unless one considers comedic, murder mysteries commonplace.
The three-act, interactive performance titled The Last Final Farewell of Kiss and Tell, couples the story of the farewell-slash-revival tour of a 1960s rock band, and an inexplicably premature death, with humor.
“It’s so hard for us actors to keep a straight face because the lines are so funny,” said the play’s producer, doubling as an actor, Donna Shirnberg. “There are sometimes things that are coming out of our mouths we have a hard time not laughing at ourselves. It is pretty traditional for a murder mystery. It is a little over the top.”
The performers have been putting on evening shows in conjunction, “on-and-off for about 12 years,” with the local nonprofit, the Kenai Senior Connection Inc., Shirnberg said. This Friday and Saturday, they are returning to Kenai Senior Center’s “stage” after a few-year hiatus to help out in the senior connection’s annual fundraiser, she said.
“Doors open at 6, dinner is at 7, and the show starts at 8,” Shirnberg said. “That is the general flow of the evening. It is a three-act play, dessert is served between acts two and three, and the first acts, one and two, set up for the climax in act three.”
The play is written and directed by Mike Druce, Soldotna High School’s former theater director. He has been writing plays since the 1980s, been published since 1995 and has worked with many of this weekend’s cast and crew as a teacher and a peer. Kiss and Tell took a few years to complete, he said.
“I am always looking for a new idea. This is one that was out there and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it,” Druce said. “It was just an idea I had, an idea and basically a title, and nothing in between. Sometimes it takes awhile for all of that to gel. I am terribly undisciplined as a writer.”
The play takes place about 20 years after the Woodstock Musical Festival in 1962, Druce said.
“It’s a band that had their moment of glory in their younger days and as time has gone on, the fame is gone and the money is gone,” Druce said. “They are doing a last tour to get remaining band members together, before they fade into obscurity … and of course in a cheesy murder mystery like this there is going to be murder.”
Druce said he considers the performance to have about a “PG rating.” It is not children’s theater, and some content can get a little risqué, he said.
Audiences and actors alike this weekend are given the benefit of participating in a unique production, Druce said.
“It is certainly going to be something they haven’t seen before,” Druce said “From a writing and acting standpoint, there’s nothing, no preconception of who the characters are or what the play is about.”
The cast took to heart their involvement and made revisions to the script where they felt appropriate, Druce said. Which often gives it some unexpected, extra flavor, he said.
Each also had the chance to further evolve their characters by designing their own attire, Shirnberg said.
Druce took this year’s performance one step further in audience participation in this particular performance. Every attendee is encouraged to enter the costume contest, seeking outfits that would have been appropriate 50 years ago, Shirnberg said.
“The characters are always pretty animated, which makes it better for the audience,” Shirnberg said.
“We want them to be actively engaged, actively involved, yell things out at us, give us information, and that’s all part of the fun,” she said.
The entire production is volunteer driven, including Kenai Senior Center cook Melissa “Missy” Bailey who helped design the menu, which comes complete with salmon and halibut chips, salad, roasted peppers, chicken alfredo and finishes up with carrot cake, Shirnberg said. Members of the Preceptor Pi Sorority, the River City Academy and the Omicron Sorority are cleaning, cooking and catering to the evening’s many expected guests, she said.
“Hopefully, people show up and have a good time,” Druce said. “…for dinner theater, people want to relax and have a good time, get their money’s worth and have a few laughs.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org