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HARRISON – Folks who had not previously heard of Possumbottom Holler received a fast-paced, crash course on that “backwoods nirvana” Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Budd Lake Bar & Restaurant. During this year’s Harrison Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Murder Mystery Dinner Theater performance, audience members also learned the relationship intricacies of the Possumbottom family – an assemblage of quirky, diverse and howlingly hilarious characters.
This mad-cap dash into silliness, missteps and misdirection was executed with energy and enthusiasm by a flexible, cohesive ad-libbing cast of actors – all under the detail-driven guidance of fellow actor/director Terry Petrongelli.
The story revolves around enterprising and resourceful Ma Possumbottom (Tracy Wheeler-Clay) and excuse-making, lazy as mud Pa Possumbottom (John Wilson) whose character was scant on spoken lines, yet delivered a virtual mountain of visual “business” that repeatedly brought the audience to laughter and applause. Their son Billy Joe Bob (Joe White) returns home from the big city in his upgraded persona of William Joseph Robert. He is accompanied by his big city socialite fiancée, Crystal Vaase (Petrongelli), to be married among his backwoods family.
Meanwhile, the groom’s twin brother, Bobby Jim Bob (Bill Mason), who is younger by a mere three seconds, continually gripes about being left behind to do all the work – including tending the family’s covert moonshine still (hidden inside a dilapidated old school bus code-named “The Outhouse”). Later in the play, Bobby Jim Bob’s lot takes a positive turn when he becomes the recipient of the redirected affections of neighbor Sadie Mae Schmidthouse (Maureen Gierucki) after Billy Joe Bob spurns her lifelong adoration.
Of course, the terms “The Outhouse” and the “outhouse” and “Schmidthouse” lend a layer of confusion that is well sprinkled throughout the play.
Little sister Bertha Jane Possumbottom is a multi-faceted, seemingly dim-witted yet devious character brought to life by Sonja Lipovsky, whose roll-with-it energy and motive-revealing asides carried several scenes, including her revelation that she had learned to use the computer in order to communicate with her pig “Ham Hock.” She shared scenes with the entire cast, which included wedding planner Loda Hotaire (Tracey Connelly) who quickly realized she was up against not only cultural barriers, but also a stymying shortage of traditional party supplies – details that did not stop her from “going all in” (to the swamp) as she sought to create an extraordinary event and thus secure her successful entry into an event-planning career.
The cast’s “connecting character” was Preacher Leacher (Karl Hauser) whose pretense at being an itinerate preacher who would happily conduct the upcoming nuptials was actually a cover story to hide his true identity: Marshal Marshall, an undercover federal marshal (a.k.a. a “revenuer”) seeking to discover and decommission the Possumbottom whiskey still. Hauser’s delivery of rapid-fire questions, skulking reconnaissance and deduction was precise and endlessly funny.
Also commendable was Petrongelli’s endurance of the family’s bridal shower games/gifts – a blindfolded stick the flower on the photo game of Find Billy Joe Bob’s Love Spot (lost to Sadie Mae, of course), several rounds of Guess What’s In the Sock, wedding night lingerie (a union suit with strategically placed flowers), and a “size 4-8” family wedding dress constructed with a built-in maternity pouch (to accommodate brides 4-to-8 months along). It was little wonder that this socialite who already had an affinity for alcohol became downright enamored of the family’s liquid product line.
When a severe lightning storm crops up unexpectedly, the family’s wedding plans get accelerated – but then the untimely demise of Billy Joe Bob Possumbottom brings Marshal Marshall on scene to interrogate the remaining cast of characters.
At that point, the audience was asked to review its notes and to write down their choice of culprit. The paper slips were gathered up to be sorted for correct answers while Chamber representative Justin Cavanaugh circulated through the audience hawking one last chance to purchase 50/50 tickets.
The play’s last scene was a summary of events, culminating in the revelation of the character responsible for the death of Billy Joe Bob and describing all the circumstances which led to his death. This is as far as the revelation goes in this article, due to the simple theatrical fact that those who invested in the evening’s entertainment earned the right to know “whodunit.” Anyone wishing to gain such knowledge should invest in next year’s production – it is well worth the cost of admission to enjoy a delicious meal and gracious table service, along with a fun and entertaining play, all while supporting the fundraising efforts of the local chamber of commerce.
Acknowledged by Tracey Connelly for contributing to the play’s success were Mike and Darla Beadle, and May Tessner-Rood for providing most of the stage props; production assistant (teleprompter) Deb Hoyt; sound producer Devon Conway; and venue/vittles/table service provider the Budd Lake Bar & Restaurant.
Audience winnings for the evening included two tickets to next year’s Murder Mystery Dinner for having correctly guessed the murderer; a door prize courtesy of Buck Rub Deer Processing; and a 50/50 payout of $208. In addition to taking and selling tickets at the door at the beginning of the evening, Harrison Chamber President Kristine Stevens thanked the crowd at the close of the show, congratulated the players, and welcomed further community participation in chamber activities.
Until next year, readers should keep one thing in mind: regardless of the motive, murder is murder – no matter whodunit!