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Reno News & Review
April 22, 2004

"The Lethal West: Dillweed Nevada"

By Miranda Jesch

"Meet me at the church at midnight, and we'll discuss the church newsletter. Just you and me--by candlelight," said the Reverend Hornus Manhandler (Paul Dancer) in a sly Irish accent. He raised his eyebrows and gave me a subtle wink of the eye. "Don't tell Brother Raymond, though," he added. The Reverend's wife, Sadie (director and Funtime Theater founder Kathy Easly), was too busy talking to other "suspects" to notice her husband's wandering, winking eyes.

Raymond is my boyfriend. He accompanied me to Funtime's murder mystery dinner presentation of Dillweed Nevada. When I told Raymond that the Reverend was trying to put the moves on me, he joked that he would straighten him out. I told Ray not to be too worried because I had asked the Reverend what the Seventh Commandment was (a clue encouraged me to do so), and he staunchly said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

"That doesn't mean he believes in it," Raymond suggested.

As the performers rely almost entirely on interaction with the audience, Ray and I spent a lot of time chatting up the Dillweed townsfolk.

The Reverend had initially introduced himself to us minutes after arriving at BJ's Bar-B-Q (745 N. McCarran Blvd., Sparks), the scene of the crime and dinner, and an appropriately rustic locale for the 1877 temporal setting of the play. The Reverend was a finger-on-the-pulse-of-everything kind of guy. He tried to get me and Raymond to invest in some newfangled idea called a ballpoint pen and some zany sport called baseball, which, as Deputy McMarshall (Tumbleweed Tex) later pointed out, makes no sense: "When you hit the ball, that should be called a strike."

It was the audience's job to uncover as much about the people of Dillweed as possible prior to the two murders that would be taking place. Of course, it was the most despicable characters who ended up being knocked off--you'll have to wait and see if the Reverend was one of them--and their murderers were two of the people I least suspected.

As the evening progressed, more secrets were revealed. A clue suggested I ask Desolay Wanton (Maire Burgess) what the price of a loaf of bread is in New York. Her response, "For me, three to six months," advanced into a discussion about who her prison acquaintances were. Apparently, the Reverend spent some time working at Desolay's coop. "He helped wayward girls find their way," Desolay said.

One of the perks of the evening was our dining companions. Raymond and I were seated with a couple, Becky and Tony, who moved from San Diego about a year ago. Tony made himself a very active participant in the evening's festivities. His quips were as entertaining as any of the performers, which is a compliment for both parties.

When Tony told the Reverend he thought he could help him raise some money, the Reverend earned a round of laughs from our table by "breaking time" and saying, "Good, give me your e-mail."

For original local theater--the performers at Funtime penned the characters and script themselves--Dillweed Nevada was impressively clever and funny. Character names alone were blatantly droll (Desolay's banker husband was Avaricious, Avery for short) and sexually suggestive. Ray and my favorites were the Please women: town doctor and whorehouse proprietor, Gladys Please (Chris Kilian), and her daughters, who did an awesome job of bringing food and drinks to the packed restaurant, Anyanees and Bloise Please. Anything we asked Bloise for, she took care of.





Reno News & Review

September 8, 2005

Live from the cemetery
"Voices of the Past"

By Stephanie Perry

It's sunset, the time of day when visitors to the Virginia City Cemetery typically start clearing out for the night. But one evening last week, the fading sunlight fell on about a dozen people dressed in a mixture of turn-of-the-century and modern clothes. It was the dress rehearsal for Voices of the Past, a ghostly walking tour performed by Funtime Theater to raise funds for the cemetery's restoration.

Candace Wheeler, who works for the Comstock Cemetery Foundation, wrote the script, and the Funtime Theater actors make it a reality. Playing the "spirits" of prominent Virginia City residents buried in the cemetery, they talk about various aspects of everyday life in a mining town, from firefighting to medical care to the challenges women faced.

"You meet the caretaker and the widow at the gate, and they tell you about the cemetery and a little bit about life in Virginia City," explains Kathy Easly, who plays the Widow of the Silver Terrace. "Then you go through the cemetery and encounter the other actors." The widow and Thomas Wilson (played by Paul Dancer) are the tour guides. They lead guests to graves where actors wait, frozen, for their cues to come back to life to tell their stories.

Voices of the Past is a walking tour--emphasis on walking. The cemetery's uneven, sandy slopes could be difficult for some to navigate, and the tour moves along at a brisk pace. Fortunately, the actual tour takes place during the day; it might be a little less spooky than a nighttime visit. Still, it's a good idea to bring comfortable walking shoes--and a camera to capture the scenic views of Virginia City and the cemetery's old gravestones.

Dancer, breaking character for a moment, says the best part of being in the production is "playing the person I'm standing on top of." The actors have permission to stand, sit and walk around their characters' graves, and the effect can be convincing.

"It feels like I'm representing them and helping preserve their memories," says Dancer, who has been involved with the tour since its beginning. He recalls several occasions where a cemetery gate seemed to open itself. Dancer believes that this was a sign from the real Wilson, giving his seal of approval to the performance.

The production, now in its third year, keeps things fresh by rotating the characters.

"We might take one person out and put one person in each season," Easly estimates. But she's not telling who the mystery guest is this year. The curious, she says, will have to come see for themselves.

The Comstock Cemetery Foundation, established in 2000 as a non-profit organization, collects donations to help protect and restore cemetery sites and old photographs of the cemeteries. It also aids in the return of items that have been removed from cemeteries. Judging from the yellow caution tape and run-down condition of some of the graves, the foundation has its work cut out; there's still plenty of restoration that needs to be done.

By the time the tour ends, twilight has fallen on the cemetery, and the actors head back to change into their 21st-century clothes. They'll be back this weekend to revive the past. A fresh and unconventional approach to local history, Voices From the Past is educational entertainment for a good cause.