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Man of mystery

WANT TO GO?

"The Butler Didn't Do It!"

An interactive murder mystery

WHERE: Comedy Zone, Holiday Inn and Suites, 400 Second Ave., South Charleston

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: $35

INFO: Call 304-414-2386 or visit www.comedyzonecharleston.com.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Anybody has the potential for murder.

At least, George Snider thinks so -- the fun kind, anyway.

Snider is the creator and director of Murder and Merriment. He and his troupe will host a homicide Friday night at the Comedy Zone in South Charleston to benefit the South Charleston Chamber of Commerce. He promises it will be a fun-filled evening of deduction and drama -- with a decent amount of comedy thrown in.

"I'm always trying to create new ideas," Snider said. "I want to be able to offer a nice array for our clients to choose from."

Currently, Murder and Merriment has 22 different murder mysteries to choose from, all written by Snider. Friday's murder revolves around a private party given by eccentric and reclusive millionaire Jet Harrison who is unveiling his new fighter plane, the Viper X. However, all is not as it seems, and someone has come to commit murder.

 The settings change, Snider said, but some elements are common from story to story. For example, most of his mysteries usually contain eight different suspects, each with their own backstory and set of characteristics.

"On average, I usually have four men and four women," he said. "There's a detective character, usually a spoof of a famous detective character with their name slightly changed. Jessica Fletcher from 'Murder She Wrote' becomes Jennifer Fletcher. Philip Marlowe becomes Philip Merlot -- stuff like that."

Before the actors perform, they're each given a dossier on their character, which includes bits about who they are and how they think they are seen. They also receive details about secrets and dirty laundry they're hiding.

"But I don't write a lot of dialogue," Snider said. "I had to write some dialogue once for a show we did called 'Fistful of Bullets.' The scene involved characters on the set of a B-movie Western, and some of the actors had to learn some lines for that movie, but I'd say most of what we do is 95 percent improv."

The trick to making the mystery -- and the maddening part of it -- is "creating a spider web of deceit." Each of the characters knows bits and pieces about the other characters. Some may know quite a bit. Others may know a lot less. A few know nothing at all.

"We're actually doing one of these next month where none of the characters know anything about the others, where it's all an elaborate set-up and they've been brought together by false pretenses."

Most of the time, however, the majority of the characters have a little dirt on each other, which helps provide the detective and the audience with the clues they need to work through the case.

Snider said, "For the actors, their mission is to avoid suspicion, avoid guilt and try to throw it out on everybody else, try to make everybody else look guilty."

But it takes a lot of time to make each character seem like a credible suspect.

"In fact, the actors don't find out they're the murderer or that they're getting murdered until half an hour before the show."

And because the actual culprit can change from performance to performance, each character has to be strong enough to bear the burden of guilt.

 "And that takes a lot of time," he said. "You wouldn't believe how long it takes to do that. There's just a lot of interconnectedness and creating the knowledge of eight different people eight times, as well as all those personality conflicts..."

He sighed.

"It can wear you out."

After the characters are built and the dossiers completed, they put the new mystery through an actor's workshop to fine tune it and get it ready for performance.

Snider thinks it's all worth the trouble even though they might not do a particular story for months or even years. He can't stop coming up with new mysteries. Murder and Merriment manages to stay busy, but it only has 22 scenarios to work with, and there are still only so many ways each mystery can come out.  

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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