Normally, guests don’t get to roam the halls of the grand Stan Hywet manor after dark. So it makes it doubly delicious when there’s a murder involved in the experience.
A killer will darken the doorstep of the manor tonight at Murder in the Mansion: A Thorny Situation, an interactive murder mystery that kicks off at 7 and will continue performances through Oct. 25. The setting is in the 1920s, the heyday for the mansion of rubber baron F.A. Seiberling and his wife, Gertrude.
A motley crew of characters has gathered at the famous estate for a botany awards ceremony that will honor the winner of a contest to develop a new strain of rose — the Gertrude Rose. Real-life guests will see the 1920s group at a reception in the Great Hall before everyone heads to the music room for the awards ceremony.
The Seiberlings aren’t at the event — they’ve been called away on business. But the president of the International Rose Society (IRS), Fert L. Izer, will be there, as will the Duke and Duchess of Thornsbury and their lady’s maid, Catnip Wolfbane.
Other colorful characters will be botanist Earl E. Bloom; Mr. Gerbera Hemp; sisters Poppy Seed and Peachy Keane; Professor Reginald Astor and Hyacinth Magnolia Blossom; Dr. Rue and Petal Sweetspire; Miss Amaryllis Potts; cousins Lyda Rose and Nova Caine; and Detective Sage Blackthorn.
Volunteer Dan Seiberling of Stow, whose grandfather, Harry, was F.A. Seiberling’s cousin in real life, plays Fert L. Izer and serves as the volunteer coordinator for the murder mysteries.
He gives this promise to attendees this Halloween season: “You will see the victim murdered.”
Guests should stay on the alert for the big moment and listen carefully to any clues the suspects may unwittingly reveal before the murder occurs. Once the dirty deed has been done, Detective Blackthorn provides information on each suspect that may help guests come up with motives for each.
The prize for the rose contest is a platinum rose and a $10,000 check, so greed or jealousy may definitely be motives in the murder. Jilted love or vengeance may also be the motive on any given night, as the “killer” changes for each performance.
Next comes the audience-interaction component, where head housekeeper Mrs. Nightshade helps usher guests into six rooms where they can help interrogate various suspects.
In this fifth annual Murder in the Mansion event, guests will question suspects in one upstairs bedroom and five rooms downstairs, which will include the kitchen for the first time. They’ll get a glimpse of one space not seen on regular manor tours: the servants’ stairwell.
“One of the biggest draws is being in the manor house after dark and walking the halls of the manor house,” Seiberling said of guests, who also enjoy the event’s humor and audience participation. Limited tickets remain for Friday evenings and more are available for Thursdays.
Cast members for the murder mystery primarily come from the Stan Hywet’s Living History group, formerly known as History First Hand, whose volunteers create fictional characters from the 1920s and interact with manor visitors and numerous Stan Hywet events.
The actors have a fun time each year coming up with their character names, which get campier and campier, and developing their stories and possible murder motives. This year, brainstorming began in January, with volunteer Madeline Milford developing a story line and suggesting possible characters. The end result for the production is a collaborative, largely improvisational effort.
“Everybody’s creativity comes to play in this because we start with just a blank sheet of paper,” Seiberling said.
At the end of the evening, the cast and guests reconvene in the manor’s basement auditorium to compare notes and come up with guesses on who the murderer is before he or she is revealed. Light refreshments also are served.
Sharon Hershey, special events coordinator for Stan Hywet who has volunteered with Murder in the Mansion all five years, plays Lyda Rose Caine this year, opposite John Tedesco, who plays her cousin, Nova. They’re from Zebulon, S.C., where the cousins are caretakers for their fathers’ farm. The Caines really want to win the prize for the Gertrude Rose.
“We have fallen on some rather hard times,” Hershey, assuming a southern accent, said of her and Tedesco’s characters.
Each year, Hershey enjoys the challenge of developing a new character who’s believable for Murder in the Mansion, which previously has had themes involving an art auction, organ concert, wedding and rubber invention. The volunteer also said she enjoys working with a great collaborative troupe and meeting interesting people from the audience.
“The mansion absolutely is a remarkable backdrop for a murder and the solving of a mystery, regardless of the time of year,” Hershey said.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.