Dan Chase assumed the identity of several different people in a single night.
At one point, he was the mortician known as Digger Deep, a bizarre fella who had the bright idea of inviting folks to a party in the fictional western town of Dry Gulp to spark up business. When Digger Deep wasn’t hassling guests and measuring to make sure they could fit in one of his makeshift coffins, Chase transformed into the town “bad guy,” Nasty Nate, who had been invited to the party in hopes of a killin’ (and thus more revenue for the local mortician).
And there most certainly was a killin’ at this murder mystery dinner party. In fact, it was up to the 70 or so attendees to determine “who dunnit” with the help of Chase’s third character, a detective named Squint Eastwood. Also tagging long to help solve the crime was Fanny Dango, owner of the Buffalo Breath Saloon, who was played by actress Carol Palmer.
Together, Palmer and Chase facilitated the controlled chaos of the “A Fistful of Hollers” murder mystery dinner fundraiser hosted by the Newton Athletic Booster Club Saturday night at The Cellar Peanut Pub. In addition to propelling the story forward, their jobs were to loosen up the Newton participants and conjure plenty of laughs while narrowing down suspects of this fictitious murder.
Of course, nearly every guest who attended the dinner was given a character to play. Name tags were distributed with pun-heavy monikers like Wyatt Burp and Barb Dwire, as well as a paragraph or two of backstory and responses to any questions Palmer or Chase may ask of them. Palmer said she takes the time to introduce as many characters as possible in between Chase’s seven or so costume changes.
A great deal of audience improvisation was needed to keep the story moving during the third act, in which visitors are to reenact the murder. The actors from Jest Murder Mystery Co. also ad-libbed many of their responses and reactions based on the hilarity surrounding them. A talent they said comes in handy when an audience member has a “deer in the headlights” look.
Years of community theater and improvising has helped the husband-and-wife acting duo sort out that small issue which is always bound to arise during a murder mystery event.
“But then sometimes they come up with these elaborate, long stories, and some of it is just genius,” Chase said.
Palmer added, “The whole thing is to get the re-enactor to do silly things and look funny. If you’re having half as much fun as we are then we’re doing our job. What’s great is when you get people who are like, ‘I don’t want to do anything, I don’t want a card,’ but by the third act they’re just rolling!”
As contracted actors out of Des Moines, Chase and Palmer regularly perform murder mystery events across the state. Ange Sevenbergen, chair of the Newton Athletic Booster Club’s fundraising committee, said this was the first murder mystery to be organized by the club.
Before the mystery took effect, guests were treated to a dinner catered by Hy-Vee and were invited to purchase craft brews from the Peanut Pub during a social hour. Participants, she said, could play as big or as little of a role in the story as they wanted.
“Super, super happy with the turnout here tonight,” she said. “This is my first year being on the fundraising committee and it’s fun to have new things. Previously, the booster club has done trivia night. Other places in town do trivia night, too, so we wanted to do something different. I’m always up for a new, fun idea.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org