Local theater company stages murder at Pitt

By Gwenn Barney

On Sunday night a murder took place at Pitt, but this one didn’t make the police… On Sunday night a murder took place at Pitt, but this one didn’t make the police blotter.

About 60 Pitt students witnessed famed gangster Vinnie Vermicelli stumble into the room with a red substance seeping from an icicle-stabbed wound on his back as they enjoyed dinner in the O’Hara Student Center ballroom.

For three hours, Pittsburgh-based Mystery’s Most Wanted theatre troupe transformed the ballroom into a 1920s speakeasy for their dinner theater event, called “Mobsters, Molls and Marinara.” Pitt Program Council brought in the interactive dinner theater company for a night of entertainment where students analyzed the motives and testimony of four murder suspects, framing one at the end of the night.

The show put students in detective roles as they tried to determine which character murdered Vermicelli, played by Steven Werber, based on clues provided by the actors. The actors traveled around the tables of students chowing on an array of chicken, beef and cheesecake, chatting with them and subtly providing clues about the murder.

“The killer is among us,” psychic Natasha Levushkin, played by actress Barbara Williams, warned the audience.

Suspects included Levushkin, private detective Ray Ricotta (Randy Oliva), flapper Shirley Laverne (Joanna Lowe) and singer-comedian Wayne Starch (W. Laszlo Holman).

The shows’ characters took turns going over the motives for each potential suspect. All the suspects owed Vermicelli money, but which one was so indebted to Vermicelli that they would kill him?

The actors kept audience members laughing throughout the evening with jokes that touched upon everything from the movie Brokeback Mountain to former Speaker of the House and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

The theater group added Pitt touches to their usual show.

“Tower A, Tower B, Tower C — they were all afraid of us, “ Vinnie said to the audience early in the show.

At another point Vinnie warns Detective Riccotta, “You are a sissy. Unless you order a large order of fries from the O, then you’re not.”

Everyone in the audience dressed up for the event in their best dinner party outfits, fitting in well with the actors, who wore flapper dresses, bow ties and fedoras.

Besides solving the mystery, the show included other elements of audience participation. Some students took on roles reading lines off pieces of paper in dialogue with the actors.

Senior Blair Suter put on a fedora and took on the role of Johnny, Vermicelli’s second-in-command..

“It was fun. I think I probably could have done more improv, but I wasn’t sure how much they wanted me to do,” Suter said, who ended up shooting the murderer earlier than the actors told him to.

Suter attended the event with his girlfriend, senior Lauren Agee, which made for a humorous moment when flapper character Shirley Laverne sat on his lap during the show.

“It was a little weird,” Agee said of the flapper’s advances, fictional or not.

Oliva, the founder of Mystery’s Most Wanted, said the company always has a great time at Pitt – although they have not visited campus since 2008.

“This was our fourth or fifth show here. Even though it takes place in the ’20s, we really try to make it more current for the college students,” he said.

PPC recreation Director Jim Dougherty said these kinds of shows usually cost upwards of $25 to $30. But, through the student activities fee, the organization was able to bring the cost down to $5 per person.

At show’s end, the actors invited audience members to write down their guess of who committed the murder. Only a handful of students chose the murderer correctly: the psychic Natasha Levushkin.

“It went much better than I anticipated,” Dougherty said. “It was a lot of fun.”