When Laura Andruski, founder of A Taste for Murder Productions/Murder at the Mansion Dessert Theater, wanted to solicit an original script for a murder mystery, she turned to local writer Dean Fiala.
Since then, he has penned a few, including “The Wedding to Die For” and “A Room with a Clue.” When Fiala is looking for inspiration, he turns to Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie, combined with a host of TV shows and movies.
However, the murder mysteries he writes – performed at Kentland Mansions – has more of a comic touch. Fiala said that the scripts he writes are “just a starting part. Laura takes the bones I write and fleshes them out. She is a good collaborator.”
“Fiala is inventive, has a clever wit and a flair for this kind of writing,” said Andruski, who calls him her “writing partner. You give him a smidge of an idea, and it explodes on the page. He’s like our playwright in residence.”
The upcoming murder mystery, “Deadline,” by Fiala, is part of Murder at the Mansion’s Dessert Theater’s fifth season. It is also part of an increase of productions for A Taste for Murder Productions, who has gone from one to three shows a year.
In “Deadline,” which has a steampunk theme, a software company has developed a mobile app that will release the weekend before Halloween. That takes place against an undercurrent of tension among the employees, including the CEO and his wife.
Neither the author of the play nor the director, who is Andruski, will say much more, other than the fact that somebody will be “ruthlessly murdered.”
The era of the play is Victorian, explained Andruski, who is also the theatre program coordinator at the Arts Barn.
“Deadline” is recommended for ages 15 and up. But at all ages of those who attend, said Andruski, audience members are encouraged to dress up. Those who do dress up according to the steampunk theme are eligible for a prize, she added.
One reason for the theme, Andruski admitted, was that “a bunch of costumes, including those with the theme, fell into my lap.”
Writing to a theme is not necessarily difficult for Fiala. What is more challenging is making the characters, especially the killers, believable to the audience members, in the way they expect.
Despite the theater’s recommendation that audience members be older than 15-years-old, Fiala said his murder mysteries are “not terribly graphic. There may be a gunshot wound, but no blood pack, for example.” On the other hand, he pointed out, audience members do not like the murders to take place offstage.
“They like to see the victim get it,” he laughed.
Another convention is that these murder mysteries contain no professional gumshoes; generally, the mysteries are solved by amateurs, followed along by the audience following the clues. Unlike what you are likely to find in murder mystery weekends, there is also only one dead body per production.
“I thought of making it more, but with a show that is only 45-50 minutes, there is only so much time to experience it,” Fiala said.
As the title of the event suggests, refreshments – in this case, sweet treats – accompany the murder mysteries. A cash bar will be available for those 21 and over, who have a photo ID.
“Deadline” takes place Oct. 25 and Oct. 26 at 8 p.m., and on Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. Single tickets are $35 each and a pair of tickets cost $60. Kentlands Mansion will show the production as part of a partnership with the theatre company, a union Andruski said she is pleased with. Their next production, “Kill Again’s Island” (as per the TV series), will open on March 2020.
Kentlands Mansion is at 320 Kent Square Road in Gaithersburg. www.gaithersburgmd.gov/recreation/performing-arts/theater.