When the beautiful, aspiring actress Monica Wells falls 10 stories to her death following the debut of her starring role in a Broadway play written by her fiancé, the police declare the tragic death a suicide.
Law enforcement surmised her fatal plunge was the result of bad reviews of the play and the death was filed away as a terrible end to a promising life.
But her betrothed, Alex Dennison, doesn’t believe Monica’s death was a suicide, nor an accident, and he sets upon the complicated — and dangerous — task of proving who murdered his beloved.
The entertaining whodunit, “Rehearsal for Murder,” originally was produced as a made-for-TV movie in 1982 and now is the winter play for Union Mine High School’s drama students, who will present the play onstage Feb. 6, 7, 8, 12 and 13 at Theater at the Mine, 6530 Koki Lane in El Dorado.
Student co-directors Frances Swickard and Jesse Wray are leading the talented cast of fellow students through their paces, filling the stage with dramatic scenes that unfold with precision and surprises to bring the story to its startling conclusion.
The story begins with Monica Wells and Alex Dennison as part of an after-party gathering where negative reviews of the play are received, casting a pall on the gathering. Everyone leaves and a while later news of Monica’s death leaves the cast reeling.
Alex, convinced after investigation that Monica’s death was the result of intentional murder, comes up with an intricate scheme to trap the killer into revealing his or her identity and he calls the five likely suspects for a reading, ostensibly, of his brand-new work.
By having each read parts that have details that implicate them in the starlet’s death, Alex hopes to uncover the dreadful truth and find justice.
Called a “thinking man’s” murder mystery, the TV movie starred Robert Preston and Lynn Redgrave and received critical praise.
Tackling the lead roles of Alex Dennison and Monica Wells are Union Mine drama students Eli Gallagher and Bianca Zuniga, respectively.
The high school each year presents three major plays to the public and the winter play is traditionally directed by capable students.
For Swickard, who has acted in many school plays, directing this work was a natural progression.
“It’s a big undertaking,” she conceded, “but it’s a lot of fun, too. It’s been a challenge to push myself out of my comfort zone of acting. Directing is a lot more involved than I knew but the instructors have been very helpful.”
Swickard, a senior, added that the students involved in the play have been professional and willing, with their mentality being that of “one big family.”
UMHS drama teacher Pete Miller is overseeing the students’ efforts and he watched recently as a rehearsal unfolded in the school theater.
Swockard’s co-director Wray watched closely as players found their spots and prepared to recite lines, calling out, “Move quickly, please! Go backstage, we need the gun.”
Instructor Miller said the simple, clean set for the play is meant to portray a theater and it is quite effective in not detracting from the story line.
“We’ve compressed the set a bit” in order to present the play, he added.
Miller said he has complete confidence in his two student directors, adding that normally seniors with experience acting in high school plays are chosen for the coveted task.
“They (Frances and Jesse) are accomplished enough and trustworthy enough to find the right play,” he said, explaining that “Rehearsal for Murder” was chosen by the pair of students for the winter production.
The directors said their parents are planning on being part of the crowds that will enjoy “Rehearsal for Murder,” presented on five days in February.
Join the proud parents by calling (53) 621-4003, ext. 4605, for tickets, which are $10 for adults and $8 for high school students ($7 for those with a UMHS student body card). Each Thursday of the play, high school students are admitted for only $5. Tickets also may be purchased at the door prior to curtain time, which is 7:30 p.m.
In addition to Gallagher and Zuniga, other cast members are Michael Stevenson, Gina Sapyta, Kayleigh Neff, Trey Sturges, Joel Heichman, Garrett Larson, Becca Ralphs, Caffrey Lynch, Spencer Stevenson, Sam Murphy, Kol Chaiken, Connor Purdum and Stephanie Lemon.
Lights are under the direction of Carlie Morris, sound is by Laura Chastain and backstage management is being handled by Caylynn Barker.