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‘B-I-N-G-O Spells Murder’: Grassroots Community Theatre brings interactive mystery dinner show to the stage

WORTHINGTON -- Grassroots Community Theatre is up to its usual antics once again, serving up an evening of laughter, entertainment and a tasty meal. Produced by the Elks Club and Grassroots, "B-I-N-G-O Spells Murder," an interactive murder myster...

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The cast of “B-I-N-G-O Spells Murder” poses for a photo in costume — and in character. (Photo by Toria Bayer)

WORTHINGTON - Grassroots Community Theatre is up to its usual antics once again, serving up an evening of laughter, entertainment and a tasty meal.

Produced by the Elks Club and Grassroots, “B-I-N-G-O Spells Murder,” an interactive murder mystery, will take place Thursday and Saturday at the Elks Club Lodge in Worthington.
Mary Jane Mardesen, director of Grassroots Community Theatre, is in her fourth year of producing plays at the Elks Club Lodge. With one play in the fall and one in the winter, it’s clear she is committed to what she does. Offstage and on, her skills speak to her enjoyment of the cast and genre.

“You’ve got to stay and watch this scene,” she whispered as Sandy Ahlberg (in character as Judy Tremont) and Jolene Kuhl (as Jennifer Boyleston) came on stage during a dress rehearsal. “It’s our favorite scene.”
Ahlberg, in her second year of involvement with Grassroots, plays the overly anxious bookkeeper of the orphanage. She’s anxious about money, anxious about bad grammar and anxious about losing the orphanage. She works hard to keep the “almost lost cause” of the orphanage afloat.
“It’s a fun role to play,” Ahlberg said. “All of the roles are really fun.”
Kuhl, giggling off stage and choosing her words carefully, described her role as “the blond I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing. I play probably the most naive, airheaded blond on the planet. It’s an extremely fun character to play.”
Kuhl’s character is engaged to be married to Jeff Ling’s character, Greg Arlington, whom he describes as “extremely normal.” A former orphan at “Our Lady of Almost Lost Causes” orphanage, Arlington, together with Boyleston and the most of the rest of the cast, is hosting a Bingo night to raise funds to cover the mortgage of the orphanage. If the money isn’t raised by the end of the night, the vultures that are hovering will take over Our Lady and the orphans will be homeless.
The vultures, in the guise of Bunny DeVaine (played by Mardesen), her husband Claude Chandam (played by Dennis Weeks) and Mob muscleman Joey Verricione (played by Daryl Hrdlicka), provide the supporters of Our Lady with some terrible worries.
Will purchasing agent and land developer DeVaine get her hands on the orphanage and turn the house of God into Condos for God? Will her hen-pecked husband exert himself and stand up to her bossiness? Will Verricione supply his boss, the Don, with a new location from which to perpetrate his gangster activities?
That’s not the end of the anxiety for the orphans and those who care for them, as the innocent Bingo Night turns into the scene of a murder. The chief investigator of the crime - as well as chief among the orphans’ supporters - is Father Patrick O’Sullivan, played by Jay Myer.
“It’s my job to pull the audience in,” explained Myer. “I can be very suspicious of everyone in the crowd.”
Crowd member Mr. Smith, played by John Widboom, helps draw the real-life audience into the performers’ world as he, an audience “plant,” interacts several times with Father O’Sullivan throughout the play.
O’Sullivan, loved and trusted by the members of his congregation, is approached throughout the evening by parishioners as they engage him in confession and seek his advice, eliciting laughs without fail in every interaction.
Myer’s real-life wife, Kathy, plays Sister Mary Louise, the strict shepherdess of the somewhat mischievous orphans, played by Nick Fenske, Josh Radke and Shawda Smith, siblings who very much want to keep the orphanage together. It is the orphans’ job to elicit as many funds as they can from the Bingo Night attendees and, as such, sell craft items and otherwise engage the audience in periodic interaction.
This fundraising interaction is genuine as cast members were quick to point out that any legal tender in the guise of coins or dollar bills are welcome to support the orphanage - and the Grassroots Theatre.
Verricione, of course, doesn’t want the fundraising venture to succeed.
“My boss said it would be vacated,” Verricione tells Father O’Sullivan, speaking of the orphanage.
“And my boss said that Our Lady of Almost Lost Causes is going to be here indefinitely,” countered the priest.
It’s hard to argue with logic like that.
Though his character may not want Our Lady to succeed, Hrdlicka, who has now done several plays with Grassroots, has recently been in touch with someone who very much wants “B-I-N-G-O Spells Murder” to be successful.
“We put information about the play on our Facebook page, and the author of the play (Richard Mattson) saw it and he got a hold of me and was very happy that we are doing it,” Hrdlicka said.
“It’s a good thing we paid our royalties,” interjected a cast member.
“I asked him if he can come to a performance, but he won’t be able to,” Hrdlicka said. “But he was real supportive.”
The cast is excited to bring their efforts to fruition.
“I’m very happy to be doing it,” said Kuhl, who has been involved with Grassroots before as well as the Fourth of July melodrama at Pioneer Village.
“It’s going to be a very good play,” Jay Myer said. “This is my fourth time doing one. We’d always attended theater productions and always wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of it. Now my wife is involved for the second time, too.”
“It gives us something to do together,” Kathy agreed.
“Come and join us,” Mardesen encouraged. “We always have a good time.”

The play runs Thursday and Saturday at the Elks Club Lodge in Worthington, 1105 Second Ave., Dinner is served at 6 p.m. and the performance begins at 7 p.m. Thursday’s meal features chicken; Saturday’s meal is prime rib. Tickets are available at Hy-Vee, Ax Photo, The Stag Clothiers and the Elks Lodge.

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