LOS ALAMOS – Mystery fans know that there are often moments when viewers want to jump inside the play or film to ask certain questions that somehow aren’t being posed to the suspects.
“And now you get to,” says Miles Ledoux. The Los Alamos resident and murder mystery playwright is staging his first interactive show with the Los Alamos Little Theatre.
“Murder at the Lone Elm” premieres Monday night with a special New Year’s Eve performance. Regular shows run from Jan. 4-19.
Ledoux has been producing interactive mystery shows for more than a decade, mostly in Canton, Ohio, and Los Angeles before he moved to New Mexico two years ago.
The show takes place in the Lone Elm Inn, a hotel “somewhere near Los Alamos,” said Ledoux. Someone is killing off guests and staff. The mayhem starts when a man falls down the stairs in what may or may not have been an accident. Hotel security chief Dana Hunt is the first to suspect foul play and the hotel guests – or possibly not guests – and staff are all suspects.
“It’s unclear why,” Ledoux said of what’s happened at the hotel. “But it might have something to do with a dead scientist, an arms dealer and an assassin.”
The show relies heavily on audience participation. The characters mingle with the audience at the beginning of the show and the crowd is later given a chance to take part in an interrogation after the first character’s death.
Audience members will be allowed to ask the characters any questions they want in an effort turn up potential clues. The 10-person cast has to be ready for any and all inquiries. As preparation, Ledoux had the actors come up with their own backstories to draw inspiration from during these improvised scenes.
“In that sense, every night, the performance will be a little different,” said Shashi Charles, who plays one of the Lone Elm’s guests, Lenora Cooke. “Because obviously the audience will ask different things and the characters can say different things (on) different nights to the questions.”
And while scripted scenes – and the ending – will always stay the same, revelations from the audience interrogation can take the cast’s improvised scenes in different directions.
“It’s kind of like a real-life ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book,” said Cassandra Bowman, who is playing hotel security chief Hunt. “It’s kind of like, if this happens, initiate this sequence. Or, if this happens, initiate this.”
At the end of Act I, the audience members will be asked to vote on a slip of paper for who they think the culprit is.
“And then Act II is the solution,” said Ledoux. Before the act begins, audience members will also get a chance to declare their theories out loud. At the end, whoever guesses correctly will be in the running for prizes.
The interactive element enhances the live theater experience, says Charles. And in a small town like Los Alamos, where the audience will likely know most of the people on stage and vice versa, it forces everybody to “suspend belief or reality” even more.
“You can be a passive audience member, but you don’t have to be,” she said. “You can be very involved. Sometimes, those who are too shy to actually be on stage as an actor or an actress, it’s kind of a way for them to be involved in a dramatic presentation without being vulnerable in that way.”
Other members of the cast include Teresa Bradford, Megan Pimentel, Spook Kellum, Alex L’Esperance, Gwen Lewis, Terry Beery, Aaron Waller and Matthew Waller. Monday’s show starts at 7:30 p.m. At each show, all audience members will be served ice cream.