“The will said her jewels were up for grabs. And grab I will.”
A single clause in Gladys Honeypot’s will starts a rollercoaster of mistaken identities, malicious intent, and madcap adventures. That’s the power of one simple image. The starting points of so many MMP shows have often been one idea, one spark, one single moment that sticks in our brains like taffy. A moment we can stretch and shape into an entire production. But what was the spark for Who’s Who? Writer/director Daniel Stallings delves into the muses behind the madness of our 28th Master Mystery Production!
CAPERING ABOUT: The Making of Who’s Who? (Part 1)
Who doesn’t love to laugh? When conceptualizing what to do for MMP’s big return to live performance, I realized that what I really wanted to do most of all was laugh with my theatre family again. We can make each other crack up with the simplest of looks, and it was that energy that I wanted to recapture. And I didn’t want to perform heavy-handed, serious drama right out of the gate. I wanted something silly to take our minds off our troubles and bring smiles to our faces. No violence. No trauma. Just laughter. And I’ve always subscribed to the notion that a mystery, by definition, is just an unanswered question. It’s simply a puzzle. And I knew I could write and produce an entertaining, yet complex puzzle while still maintaining the wacky, comedic, family-friendly vibe I wanted.
There’s a subgenre of mystery fiction called caper fiction. A caper story typically involved one or more crimes (especially thefts, swindles, or occasionally kidnappings) perpetrated by the main characters in full view of the reader. A caper story is distinguished from the straight crime story by elements of humor, adventure, or unusual cleverness or audacity. Criminals go to often outlandish means to try an execute their complicated plots. Think of stories like The Great Train Robbery. But I wanted to emphasize the comedy aspect even further and push our storyline more toward comedies such as The Great Muppet Caper, Rat Race, and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I wanted a wild comedy where the caper doesn’t go well, where our thieves aren’t professionals but bungling amateurs. In a way, Who’s Who? is a spiritual homage to MMP’s 22nd show, Eat Cake, where we had a cast of revolutionaries and aristocrats all up to no-good and working at cross-purposes. That, to me, was a situation built for comedy and the high-spirited hijinks I wanted for the new show.
Okay, it’s one thing to say “I want to write a caper,” but just what is the story about? What are the thieves even trying to track down? Well, part of the humor I wanted for the show was that the thieves had no clue what they were hunting. But I still had to know what the goal of the chase was. I needed some kind of grounding scenario that brings all these disparate characters together. When writing a show set in a historical period, I just staff the script with characters you would see at that time and place. 1920’s Paris would have flappers and artists. 18th Century Versailles would have aristocrats and revolutionaries. 1960’s Hollywood would have actors, directors, and film crews. But a show set in the present day doesn’t come with its own parameters. So for shows such as Foul Play, I had to dream up reasons for people to gather in the venue and figure out their relationships, such as strangers with a dark secret invited to a colorful party in an homage to CLUE.
What is a good reason to gather? I thought of a costume party and was immediately taken by the idea. Costume parties lend themselves to mysteries. People show up as something other than themselves. Changing identities for an evening. What a great time to come as you’re not and pull off a heist. I realized this was where my characters lay. Not only would they lie about their intentions about being there (as to be expected), but they’d also lie about who they were underneath the costume. I thought it would be fun to present this eccentric group of strangers with not-the-most-convincing stories infiltrating a costume party, but as the show progresses, their true selves are exposed. And their real relationships. We’ve never done a show where all of the cast was lying about their identities before, and I was game to try.
Even though a party is a great reason to gather, it still wasn’t enough of a reason to gather the characters of the show together in one room for the story to unfold. I could dream up all sorts of funny fake names for my characters (inspired by the funny names like The Mallory Gallery, 17 Highbrow Street, or the evil models Carla, Darla, and Marla in The Great Muppet Caper), but there still needed to be a reason that forces the thieves to make their plans. And I realized there was a mystery fiction convention I had yet to include in a Master Mystery Production: the bitterly contested will. A single clause in a contested will would be enough to send the dishonest racing for their costumes to pull of a comedic heist. I could picture the show building block by block: an eccentric heiress, her will, a priceless treasure, false identities, and Marie Antoinette in a ski mask and safecracking tools. And the story blossomed from there.
But what about the rest of tale? Ah, for that you’ll have to attend Who’s Who? to see how all the puzzle pieces come together. But you can get a look at identities put on by our amazing cast of cukoo criminal wannabes in Just Who IS Who?: The Making of Who’s Who? (Part 2).
And we’ll be sure to see you when the show opens November 5 at Red Rock Books!
–Master Mystery Productions