Post Mortem: LENORE NEVERMORE

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Oh, my friend, we are just beginning…

Welcome to Post Mortem! This is where Master Mystery Productions looks back on the performance of its most recent show.

Once upon a midnight dreary (or a summer day sunny), Master Mystery Productions set out with an ambitious idea: to adapt a poetic masterpiece known by the whole world for the stage and transfigure it into an interactive mystery. It would be our heartfelt homage to the man who invented out genre, the pioneer of detective fiction. For Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven” would become one of the most powerful images associated with his legacy. For Master Mystery Productions, it would serve as our muse for a Gothic psychological thriller filled with supernatural surprises and sinister secrets for our historic 25th production, Lenore Nevermore.

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Lenore Nevermore was a show we originally brainstormed back in 2018, but it wasn’t until this season that we were able to mount it. Since the start of the popular Dickens Teas with Ridge Writers back in 2015, we knew we wanted to expand the authors honored. Edgar Allan Poe was a natural choice. And Lenore Nevermore ended up as the entertainment. But we went further with it than the original inspiration. We turned it into our first touring production, the first MMP show to travel to a different venue each performance. We reunited with Amargosa Opera House for closing night of the show, bringing us full circle with our 2019 season.

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Once upon a midnight dreary…

Our Ridgecrest show featured feathers galore as we festooned Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church with black feather wreaths, ravens, and custom quills to serve as souvenirs for our guests. Tea and chocolate cupcakes were served. At Amargosa Opera House, Marta Becket’s exquisite murals greeted us with their usual awe-inspiring magic, framing our dark little tale with such classical elegance. While the venues were different, the feeling was the same. That expectant feeling that something enchanting was about to happen. Something shadowy and secretive filled with the magic only live theatre can possess.

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Our intimate cast plays a small collection of characters gleaned from Poe’s poem “The Raven” and some of his other works. Auguste Dupin mourns the loss of Lenore, a radiant young Englishwoman who crosses his path one bleak December night. Lenore’s vitality, longing for freedom, and spirit of adventure are quickly snuffed out when a bust of Pallas Athena, perched on top of a chamber door, falls and kills her. Now her memory haunts Dupin. It will be up to a powerful goddess of wisdom rising in a broken statue to bring forth the truth buried in a madman’s mind. With a winged omen in the form of a Raven, will Dupin be able to decipher the meaning of Nevermore and confront the fears that corkscrew into his heart?

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Lenore (played by Devanne Fredette) dreams of a life of adventure and new experiences.
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Dupin (Sam Johnson) is startled by Lenore’s impassioned outburst.
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Pallas Athena (Beth Sparks-Jacques) poses as a statue in Rome.

Lenore Nevermore was a tightly-constructed, twisting, and turning psychological thriller meets classical whodunit. The setting is much more than just a personal library on the outskirts of Paris. Writer/director Daniel Stallings created a world of the tortured subconscious mind trying to dredge up hidden memories and compartmentalized feelings. With true Poe fashion, the Raven, styled as a plague doctor, is a frightening presence. Pallas Athena rises as a living statue, intent on truth. Lenore starts off a sweet memory before mutating into something much more malevolent, a nightmare that will only break if Dupin allows himself to remember. And remember honestly. Can we trust these memories? It is perhaps the most graphic representation of an unreliable narrator we’ve ever hand. With fist fights, weapons that materialize from nowhere, ominous warnings, and dream-like doubles, Lenore Nevermore was daring in the way it chose to represent a murder mystery. And surely unforgettable.

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Guy de Vere (Lexi Phillips) dresses down Dupin about the state of his home.

Lenore Nevermore was backed by a supremely talented group of artists. Skeleton Key and Diamond Mask winning theatrical artist Olivia Holm designed the white marble body painting for our living Pallas Athena bust (played by the incomparable Beth Sparks-Jacques), which turned into Olivia’s most challenging and best makeup design in her career. Lexi Phillips designed the all black-and-white costumes for the production, while master costumer and Skeleton Key Winner Margit Stallings constructed the iconic Lenore dress. With magic spears, puppet ravens, and a set with more tricks than a magician, Lenore Nevermore was a beautiful production to create and experience. After all, it was our 25th Master Mystery Production. We had to pull out all the stops. Did our audiences love it?

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What has Dupin done?
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“What are you afraid of?”

Audiences were riveted by the show. At any moment, a new memory would wreak havoc across the stage. Something magical would happen. A creepy twist would emerge. Guests were glued to the action onstage, surprised and delighted by each little nugget of the story we uncovered. The more they watched, the more they loved. One audience member told us after the show that the more they thought about what happened in the production and what we did to portray it, the better and better the show become. Lenore Nevermore was a show that continued to improve and grow and enrich as audiences spent more time dissecting the secrets revealed. While it was one of our shortest scripts, it’s also one of our most powerful and detailed.

Read the full review from The Daily Independent here.

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Closing night is our traditional awards night. First up was The Skeleton Key Award for Service Above and Beyond, our oldest award. Each designed to uniquely reflect the show it was made for, the Skeleton Key Award is a symbol of an individual putting their heart and soul into a Master Mystery Production, going above and beyond their assigned jobs in the show to make it the best it can be. They are inspirations to us in the company, and they remain celebrated in our programs and on our website for years to come. Our winner for this production did everything from helping to block to cleaning up after rehearsal every night. Congratulations to Sam Johnson on your Skeleton Key Award for Lenore Nevermore!

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The Award for Lenore Nevermore
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Congratulations Sam!

Following the Skeleton Key, we presented the coveted Diamond Mask Awards for Excellence in Performance. Voted by audiences, guests select their nominees for the award based on the performances they liked best. The actors with the most votes win. On their first win, they receive a special diamond pin and subsequent wins will receive a diamond chain to create a cascade of diamonds. Two people won the award for Lenore Nevermore. Congratulations to Sam Johnson and Lexi Phillips on your Diamond Mask-winning performances!

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Sam Johnson’s deeply nuanced portrayal of Auguste Dupin, our tortured scholar, has been considered his best role yet. His first dramatic role as well as his largest role onstage at Master Mystery Productions, Sam’s combination of light humor, deeply felt pain, exquisite variation, and intense commitment to the role resonated with audiences here and abroad. As such, they awarded him with the coveted Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance, his second after receiving the award in 2017 as Agent Sly in Anonymous. Congratulations Sam on your Diamond Mask winning performance!
This win also marks a special moment in MMP history. First, Sam is only the third person to win both the Skeleton Key and the Diamond Mask for the same show, first accomplished by Katie Cozine in Bury Me in Paris in 2017 followed by his mother, Nicole Johnson, in Ode to Agatha later that same year. Sam and Nicole also become the first and only family members to complete the same honor, the first mother and son to win both Skeleton Keys and Diamond Masks. Talk about a talented family!
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Commanding. Propulsive. Hilarious. And committed. Just a few words we would use to describe Lexi Phillips’ performance as Guy de Vere. Richer than reason and bad to the bone, Lexi got to play all the dastardly and delicious details de Vere offered with fun, humor, and spirit. Audiences found her performance outstanding and unforgettable, and so awarded her with her first Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance. Congratulations Lexi for your award-winning portrayal!

The highest honor at Master Mystery Productions, The Founder’s Award for a Year of Outstanding Service goes to those who have demonstrated tremendous dedication, work, and passion across an entire production year at MMP, which lasts from January to November. The Founder’s Award winners very often work on nearly all the shows of that year, helping out wherever they can, supporting MMP as a whole beyond just a particular production. These champions serve as exemplary examples of the good and wonderful talents Master Mystery Productions has to offer. The 2019 Founder’s Award is very special to us. Janis Kunz worked on every single show this season whether as crew or as a performer. She has been a source of light, life, and joy to every single member of the company who has worked with her. Everyone loves Janis and loves working with her. Her rise from audience member to award winning performer has been astronomic. She joined MMP as Polly the Parrot in Mutiny on the Sea Witch in November 2018. Thrust quickly into the spotlight, Janis soon commanded it and took home her first Diamond Mask Award for the role as well as the Blood, Sweat, and Tears Award from RCTT for her work on the show. Amazing and dedicated from the word go, Janis proved an exemplary crew member in Eat Cake in Spring 2019 where she took home the Skeleton Key Award. In Foul Play in Summer 2019, she was invaluable in the crew as Stage Manager and Set Dresser, along with having to perform as a Maid on closing night. In Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, she played the part of Captain Wallis perfectly, earning her her second Diamond Mask Award. And even with a tight schedule, she still gave it her all to help us mount Lenore Nevermore as a member of our crew. Janis has been going above and beyond ever since she began her journey less than a full calendar year ago, making her the fastest Founder’s Award winner yet. When it came time to decide our 2019 champion, we could think of no one better. If Janis hadn’t taken that leap into theatre, none of these wonderful things she has given us would have happened. As she accepted it with tears in her eyes, we knew we made the right choice. We are beyond proud of her and, on behalf of everyone at Master Mystery Productions, congratulations Janis on your Founder’s Award win! You are an inspiration to us all!

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Congratulations Janis!

There was one final honor to be had that night. Devanne Fredette has been a true treasure to work with at Master Mystery Productions for the past four theatrical seasons. Since beginning her journey in 2016 in the role of Phoebe Walliscroft in The Last Garden Party, Devanne has blossomed into a confident, mature performer and multi-award winning member of the company. She has been in more MMP shows than any of her counterparts. She has performed in The Last Garden Party, Bury Me in Paris, Ode to Agatha, The Silent City, Exit Prima Donna, Famous Last Words, What Happens at Sundown, Mutiny on the Sea Witch, and Eat Cake. Lenore Nevermore, where she played the title character to perfection, marks her record-destroying TENTH production with the company, the longest of any performer. In her long time with MMP, she has earned The Skeleton Key Award for her amazing work on The Silent City, the Diamond Mask Award for her landmark portrayal of Cutlass Kate in Mutiny on the Sea Witch, the Blood, Sweat and Tears Award from RCTT for her work on Mutiny, and the Founder’s Award for the 2018 season. An absolute gem to work with, Devanne will also be honored as our second ever outside director for the company when she co-writes and directs Malice in Wonderland in 2020. Since Lenore Nevermore, our silver show as it marks our 25th production, fell on her own special anniversary of her tenth production with us, we at MMP honor Devanne with the title of Hall of Fame Artist, as she is now inducted into the Master Mystery Productions Hall of Fame for her passion, commitment, and artistry in our company. She joins only a handful of people whose long careers with us have made us stronger. Devanne’s contributions to MMP will never be forgotten. So congratulations Devanne for your induction into the Hall of Fame! What a huge honor!

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Devanne Fredette is our newest Hall of Fame Artist! Congratulations!

Lenore Nevermore was a triumph of artistry and style, showcasing the immense talents MMP has to offer from everything from costume design to makeup design to acting to stage combat to set dressing to special effects to much more. It was more than just a love letter to Edgar Allan Poe and his dark genius. It was a love letter to the art of theatre, to the genius of our performers, designers, and crew members, and to the 2019 season as a whole. It was one heck of a ride! Thank you so much to everyone who had a hand in making it as wonderful as it was.

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With the closure of Lenore Nevermore, our 2019 season comes to an end. We have had everything from poisoned cakes, killer party favors, Bigfoot sightings, and rapping, tapping, quoting ravens. Our casts and crews have conquered this season’s challenges with tons of humor and heart. We’ve continued to grow our family of artists year by year and will continue to foster these relationships in the coming years. 2019 was our season of empowerment, and we see much more coming in 2020.

After all, next year is our five-year anniversary. Who knows what mysterious happenings will tread the board next season? At MMP, anything can, and usually does, happen.

See you in 2020!

–Master Mystery Productions

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