The year is 1927. Sarasota’s most elite socialites are dressed in their finest gowns and furs to celebrate the opening of the city’s new opera house. As party guests mingle and enjoy cocktails, a scream pierces the room. The opera director has been murdered. Police investigator Peter Sharp springs from his seat.
“There’s been a murder, and nobody is to leave this building until we find the killer,” he says. “One of our special party guests is a murderer.”
The dramatic scene is part of the Sarasota Bay Club’s murder-mystery dinner, “Murder at the Opera.” The performance is part of the independent retirement living center’s extended programming. Sarasota Bay Club residents wrote the original script and performed the characters, whose names included clever nods to musical terms and cultural references. Character names, such as Merle Pesta, Allegra Tempo and Vera Got DuGold, drew laughs from the residents.
Actor and resident Shirley Fein explains the residents have spent the last few weeks brainstorming the plot, developing their characters and rehearsing the performance, which they debuted for more than 130 residents Monday, April 22.
“The fun and the camaraderie has been wonderful,” she says. “All of the residents are so bright and willing to work. It’s been so much fun; we’ve even started calling each other by our stage names.”
Residents watched the performance and interacted with the cast throughout a cocktail party and dinner as they gathered clues and attempted to solve the mystery. In the end, Lotta Miles’ ambition for her boyfriend, rehearsal pianist Mark Time, motivated her to murder opera director Noel Itall.
Aka Merle Pesta, event hostess
“My character is the chairwoman and the host of the party,” says Fein of her character. “She’s a takeoff of Perle Mesta, who invented the term, ‘hostess with the mostest.’ We all developed our characters ourselves, and we brainstormed to come up with clever names for them. I can relate to my character; I like to socialize and talk with people, and I enjoy a party.”
AKA Lotta Miles, diva
“I’m the diva, and I’m the key person in the opera,” says Malcolm of her character. “I’m very ambitious for my lover, the rehearsal pianist. I think he deserves to be the director. I don’t think I’m like my character at all. I like being someone I’m not — it brings out the ham in me.”
AKA Peter Sharp, police investigator
“I’m an opera buff, but my day job is as a police investigator,” says Halpern about his character. “I’m just pleased to be here as a guest, but it turns out there’s a homicide, and I have to get involved and interrogate all the guests. Hopefully, I get to the bottom of it. Preparing for this was a nice challenge, but my wife is worried I’ll be too harsh when I’m interrogating the guests.” “Hopefully, everyone knows we’re just acting.”