Um…Turn around, guys!

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

In 2019, we gathered under the fall skies at Crestwood Lake Campground to swap tall tales about the Big Man himself–Bigfoot. And three years later, we brought out the marshmallows, kindled the campfire, and gathered once more to bring our 31st Master Mystery Production to the people of Ridgecrest. It was time again for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind.

Welcome to (the new and improved) Crestwood Lake Campground!

Writer and director of the original production, MMP Hall of Fame Artist Monica Dwyer, pitched and spearheaded a campfire-themed Weird Weekend for Ridge Writers this year with a new Reader’s Theatre revival of her popular Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind anchoring the celebration. She unearthed the original clever signage, the billboards for Billy’s Bigfoot Fresh Jerky, the coasters for Big Red’s Tavern on Main (THEY’RE FREE!), and built a new campfire for the actors to circle around. Monica also managed to reunite much of the original cast of the 2019 production with three newcomers: Calvin Johnson as Evan Landon, Ed Kramer as Benjamin Hughes, and Devanne Fredette as April Abbot. We also had a new venue: Moe’s Music, which served as our home for Closer to Heaven earlier this year. The original dreams of a lantern-lit production remained, now with cool blue lights to give our campground an almost spooky, ghostly, nighttime glow. And Monica served up her delicious Bigfoot-themed camp meals featuring homemade treats to our guests with jerky, trail mix, s’mores brownie cupcakes, gingerbread wildman cookies, and cinnamon sugar footprint cookies. Crickets chirped in the distance. And every so often…wood knocks. Could it be…Bigfoot?

Then the show began. Back at Crestwood Lake Campground, it was as if no time had passed. The cast slipped effortlessly back into their roles as if they were comfortable, broken-in hiking boots. Nicole Johnson’s Big Red was as effervescent and entrepreneurial as ever, shelling out her free coasters to guests all night. Heather McGaha’s Madeline Conrad found a new level of brisk, cold, business acumen, a woman who knows what she wants. But her private troubles led to a hilarious mistake of vodka in a water bottle. Jonathan Blair expertly switched between the hilarious, high-strung Officer Dixon and moody, brooding Frank. Janis Kunz’s Captain Wallis provided a much needed center of sanity around the fire. Daniel Stallings brought a fresh wide-eyed wonder to event organizer and stalwart Bigfoot believer James “Jimmy Fudge” Ferguson. And Olivia Holm’s Honey Boudin was still as sweet as her name and love for all of nature’s critters. Our new castmates blended into the mix to perfection with Ed Kramer giving Benjamin Hughes a downhome humor and rustic ache for the wife who left him. Calvin Johnson was endearing as Evan Landon. And Devanne Fredette broke all our hearts with her story of tragic loss as April Abbot.

Honey (Olivia Holm) tells a tale of her sighting of a juvenile Bigfoot.
April (Devanne Fredette) remembers her late husband…
Evan (Calvin Johnson) shows off his plaster cast of the creature who visited his aunt and uncle’s cabin in the woods.

But it’s not all s’mores and stories tonight. A Wanted poster reveals a traitor is looking to capture Bigfoot for $10,000. A box of evidence disappears. A business proposition promises fortune unparalleled…for a price. An unwanted guest stirs up trouble and dark, angry secrets. Accidents happen on the trails. And someone…or something…seems to be lurking just out of sight in the shadows. Fights, frights, and falling in love are just some of the adventures this cast of characters gets up to.

Frank (Jonathan Blair) almost starts a fistfight with his ex-best friend Fudge (Daniel Stallings).
Evan gives Frank a not-too-subtle suggestion to behave, reminding him they are tent neighbors…
Officer Dixon (Jonathan Blair) got into some trouble on the trails.
If looks could kill…

Audiences adored the show with the closing night crowd roaring with laughter at each quip, comeback, subtle shade, and hilarious hijink. They were in on every joke and cheered loudly for our stellar cast at the end. Is there any better feeling than a perfectly executed production? For us theatre kids, it was the best feeling in the world. We had a blast performing, and the audience was on board for every moment of pure heart that encapsulates Monica Dwyer’s splendid play. Bravo!

Could it be…?

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. Congratulations Sebastian Lorenz for winning the Skeleton Key Award for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind 2022 Revival!

Award for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind 2022 Revival
Congratulations, Sebastian!

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. In a historic moment, there was a tie in votes and FIVE people won the award for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind 2022 Revival. Congratulations to Daniel Stallings, Heather McGaha, Calvin Johnson, Jonathan Blair, and Nicole Johnson for your Diamond Mask-winning performances!

Daniel Stallings’ reprisal of the role of James “Jimmy Fudge” Ferguson was full of fun and joy, as he embraced more physical comedy and approached the role with humor and heart. One guest told him he perfectly captured Fudge’s “wide-eyed wonder” at the world of Bigfoot and the stories told around the campfire. Whether it was examining a nonexistent splinter, having his heart broken by a story of a loved one’s loss, or nearly getting into a fist fight with a former friend, Daniel performed with a new fearlessness, wide emotional range, sense of humor, and a fresh freedom to the revival of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, allowing him to have even greater fun onstage in the role than before. And it showed. With his quick wit, ability to improv, and ability to connect with his other actors and the audience throughout the run, audiences had a roaring good time and awarded him his SECOND Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance after winning his first in Closer to Heaven. He becomes only the second person in MMP history to repeat a venue with his Diamond Mask wins, both of his being at Moe’s Music. Congratulations Daniel on your Diamond Mask-winning performance!
Being the boss is tough, but Heather McGaha makes it look effortless when she reprised her role of Madeline Conrad in the 2022 Revival of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind. With an icy stare, a cold shoulder, and a chilly demeanor with her fellow campers, Heather provided the perfect blade-like touch to slice through the warmer, wackier personalities of the show and provide gorgeous contrast and tension. Finding more delicious diva behavior since the first go around, Heather’s new interpretation of Madeline left everyone in awe. She could portray a steely business woman and a woman at the end of her figurative rope in perfect balance…while also unearthing secrets and a lot of choice laughs. That’s why audiences awarded her with her FOURTH well-earned Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance. She shares the distinction with Daniel Stallings of being one of only two performers who managed to repeat venues for their Diamond Mask wins with two at Amargosa Opera House and now two at Moe’s Music. Bravo, Heather!
Did you know Bigfoot is a lucky charm? He must be, because Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind garnered Calvin Johnson his lucky SEVENTH Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance for a heartfelt, homespun, and heartwarming rendition of Evan Landon, a young believer in Bigfoot with a soft spot for a certain camper. Calvin’s professionalism, charisma, and humanity made him a natural to embrace Evan’s simple charm, practicality, and gregarious, friendly personality. Whether he was sharing a story about the (debatable) bravery of his cat Dewey, playing the camp muscle when trouble comes brewing, or being Honey’s knight in camouflage armor when an accident happens on the trail, Calvin delivered it all with grace, humor, and a definite sparkle of joy which has made him a true theatrical legend. Audience agreed, and now he is the first performer to earn a landmark seven Diamond Masks and increases his track record as the most decorated performer to ten awards. Congrats Calvin on another history-making performance!
Jonathan Blair stepped back onto the MMP stage to reprise and reinvigorate his award-winning double role as Frank and Officer Dixon in our revival of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind. Balancing two characters is never an easy task for any actor, but Jonathan manages to seamlessly switch from the troubled, moody, brooding, and antagonistic Frank to the high-strung, hilarious, and unlucky cousin Officer Dixon. With the ease of long practice and skill, Jonathan timed each appearance perfectly and never once dropped his characters. His antics–whether it was Frank poking the bear at the campground to stir up some trouble to Officer Dixon using his beloved shovel in self-defense–his acting brought audiences joy and plenty of laughs. As such, he won his THIRD Diamond Mask Award for his portrayal, joining Nicole Johnson as the first actors who win Diamond Masks for reviving their original roles. Bravo, Jonathan!
With the bright trill of “They’re FREE!” echoing through the campsite, we knew Big Red was back. Big Red may not be big in stature, but she’s definitely big in energy, voice, personality, and hair. Nicole Johnson returned to her award-winning role with a vengeance to bring her downhome sass, sweet-as-sugar, spicy-as-pepper personality, and endlessly entrepreneurial owner of Ridgeview’s most successful tavern (on Main) onto the Moe’s Music stage. It’s hard not to love a character as fine as frog hair and who is as open about her free coasters as Big Red. Audiences laughed and loved Big Red’s stories and quips and rewarded Nicole with her fourth Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance, which lets her share the honor with Jonathan Blair for being the first actors to win the award for reviving their original characters. You can’t keep Big Red down. Congratulations, Nicole!

One final honor crowned the evening. When Ridge Writers’ Weird Weekend 2022, and by extension Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, needed a home when our traditional venue fell through, we turned to Moe’s Music, who had been our partner for Closer to Heaven. And Moe’s came through for us. They gave us a place to camp out for one glorious weekend when we really needed them, and, as a token of our deepest gratitude for their assistance and generosity, we at MMP awarded them with a Special Commendation on behalf of all of us. Without them, Weird Weekend wouldn’t have happened. Bravo, Moe’s Music! You are an inspiration to us all!

Congratulations, Moe’s Music!

Even though every show has to close some day, the 2022 revival reminded us why Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind is a beloved classic of the MMP canon, and why Monica’s imagination remains a bright beacon for so many around her. It was, truly, a hair-raising experience.

…and after.

But the art of Master Mystery Productions doesn’t stop yet. We have one more show to close out our 2022 season, and for that, we are going into our time machines and taking everyone back to 1925. On the Left bank of the Seine, at the sidewalk cafes frequented by the artsy and the wealthy, two bohemian artists are sharing a little coffee break to try and solve the murder of the patron looking to set them up for life with a huge commission. But danger is lurking nearby in…


Tête-à-Tête performs October 19, November 5, November 12, and November 19 at 7:30 p.m. at The Forum Theater in Lone Pine, CA (141 N. Jackson St.). The show is $20 each and the tickets are sold on EventBrite here.

We’ll see you soon!

–Master Mystery Productions


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