Our police line-up

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

A town nestled up in the East Sierra mountains. A natural setting with a historic, rustic log cabin bordered by pines and threaded with a flowing creek. This was the site of the 5th anniversary Eastern Sierra Book Festival held at the Mammoth Museum at Hayden Cabin in beautiful, scenic Mammoth Lakes, CA. And it was the site of even more history as Master Mystery Productions unveiled our 30th show for the festival patrons, a silly little romp of a casino heist gone haywire we called Unlucky Seven.

Badges the Witnesses wore.

Unlucky Seven was designed to be a showcase of MMP’s talents to a growing clientele. After being invited to join the festival as a vendor from our friends at Ridge Writers, we decided the best way to show people what we do…was to show people what we do. It’s all very well and good to tell guests about what you do and show them the long stream of programs and look at pictures. But that can’t always capture the feeling of live theatre. The full picture, as it were. So we turned to our amazing artists, asked who would be available to make a one-day trip to Mammoth with us, and waited to see just what kind of interactive mystery we could create for our first festival production. And we managed to secure to help of eight performers to put on a specially-written show just for the book festival, a walkthrough Reader’s Theatre show that became Unlucky Seven.

Witness the First (played by Janis Kunz) opens the show as the first witness guests could interview at our booth.

The genesis for the show came from a funny memory of a childhood show from writer/director Daniel Stallings’ past. A character won a slot machine jackpot consisting of nothing but nickels. How on Earth was that feasible? And if you wanted to steal that jackpot, how could you get away with it? A challenge like that provided enough of a seed for a whole forest of ideas to bloom. Stallings wanted to explore a show without names, choosing to number all the characters instead, reminiscent of a police lineup. Which then gave us a direction in terms design and style. All of the characters would be witnesses at a casino robbery, lined up and numbered to be interviewed by our detectives–the audience. Each of the characters were built on the idea of what kind of characters would be present at a slot machine jackpot (and its subsequent disappearance): the winner, the casino owner, the security personnel, the slot jockey, the drinks girl, the recovering gambler, the pickpocket.

The unique production limitations gave us more room to explore just how can move audiences through a story–in this case, physically. They chose their own adventure, as it were. With a stunning cast of experienced MMP veterans to interview, the patrons picked their own journey through the show, talking to the suspects in any order they wished. The show really did become a puzzle to piece together, each witness statement building together to form a picture. Guests got ask questions of the suspects as well, adding more paint to the picture of this shocking casino robbery. Was it the crooked casino owner who deliberately machined the jackpot to try and land another sucker into a gambling addiction? Did the drunk floozy who monopolized the machine get revenge for losing the jackpot that “shoulda, coulda, woulda” been hers? Did the pickpocket who saw and heard more than she’s willing to tell have a hand to play in this heist? And what’s with the baby in the casino, the fake mustache, and the jogger who looks like Dracula? Bit by bit, statement by statement, the pieces started fitting together for the guests.

Witness the First (Janis Kunz) finds her daycare’s business card amidst the chaos of her purse.
Witness the Second (Calvin Johnson) talks about the “little adrenal hit” in a gambler’s brain that he wants to exploit.
May not be a positive sign when the security desk employee Witness the Third (Monica Dwyer) looks nervous.
Witness the Fourth (Leslie Blake) will defend the honor of her good luck charm, Poochums, a photo of a dog/living potato pillow she saw on the internet.

The characters were hilarious, outlandish, and suspicious all in delicious measure, and we, as a company, had a ball pushing out vets with characterizations they hadn’t done before. Guests routinely told us how much fun it was. We got to while the away the hours together as a company, enjoying the natural scenery and each other’s company while bringing our 30th production to a new audience and new venue. Thank you Eastern Sierra Book Festival for hosting us!

Witness the Fifth (Devanne Fredette) realizes she forgot all about helping her friend due to the chaos of the robbery and slot machine explosion.
Witness the Sixth (Heather McGaha) explains about her mysteriously quiet baby in her arms.
Witness the Seventh (Allison Mitchell) is too cool to be intimidated by an interrogation.
Witness the Seventh (Libby Mitchell) hints at what she MAY have seen and what she MAY have heard.

When a show closes, we love to honor the people who have helped us bring these shows to life and those whose excellence in their craft deserve to be recognized. And so, we present our company awards at curtain call. 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. The winner here was a chief organizer of the Eastern Sierra Book Festival and owner of Whistling Rabbit Press who worked so hard to ensure our comfort and our place in Mammoth at the Festival, sharing all out publicity, and consistently celebrating our work and the work of all the vendors. An absolute treasure! Congratulations Jennifer Crittenden for winning the Skeleton Key Award for Unlucky Seven!

Award for Unlucky Seven
Congratulations Jennifer!

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. Only one actor won the award for Unlucky Seven, which is special as it is the 50th Diamond Mask Award, a fitting honor for our 30th show. Congratulations Leslie Blake for your Diamond Mask-winning performance!

The historic 50th Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance, presented at our landmark 30th production, is truly a treasure. Much like the woman who earned the coveted award. Leslie Blake has grown steadily in conviction, confidence, and power as an actor over the years, bonding with her chosen theatre family and exploring her own gifts as a creative soul. It was that conviction audiences admired and rewarded as she played–to perfection–Witness the Fourth, a slot jockey committed to her machine and her portrait of the mysterious Poochums (dog? bear? pillow?). Leslie never once dropped her guard, always in character whenever festival attendees came through, engaging with the entire cast, sassing them with creative ad-libs, and hiccupping from the dozen martinis thoughtfully sent her way. Commitment is the watchword of this performance which made guests smile, laugh, and scratch their heads in wonder. For this masterpiece of character, Leslie was awarded her SECOND Diamond Mask Award after playing Kim Hyatt in What Happens at Sundown in 2018. She enters the annals of MMP history as the recipient of our 50th Diamond Mask, an honor which brough her to tears. We are beyond proud of you Leslie. Congratulations!

All in all, we had a great time together and that is one of the intangible pleasures of live theatre, bringing people together for an experience that may only last a moment in real time but becomes a moment that lives with you long after the tent comes down, the costumes are doffed, and the actors return to their own personalities. That is…until the next show.

The cast and crew of Unlucky Seven

And the next show is peeking just around that grove of trees. See it there? In the distance? And do you hear that strange wood knocking sound? I swear I’ve heard it before. Where did I hear it? Maybe back in 2019? Oh look! Over there! Is that…no, it couldn’t be…but…is it…Bigfoot?

Get ready to feel revived as we bring to life a fresh new production of one of our sold-out hits with Monica Dwyer’s play about believing and bonding with…


And don’t forget Tête-à-Tête, our Parisian murder mystery that will hold auditions August 5 and 6 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Red Rock Books! So many new experiences to enjoy in the latter half of 2022. Happy sleuthing!

–Master Mystery Productions

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