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Company brings 'Drop Dead' to local Ames Dinner Theater

The Great River Road Theatre Company is living up to its name by taking its latest show on the road.

The Prescott-based company has brought "Drop Dead" to the Ames Dinner Theatre in Ellsworth. Director Judy Johnson, who also has a role in this comedy-mystery, said the unavailability of a suitable facility in the group's home community had her look elsewhere.

Last week, the 10-member cast was in the midst of dress rehearsals at the former local junior high school, where a remodeled auditorium can seat up to 400 theatre-goers/diners.

"It's a play within a play," Johnson said Wednesday of the two-hour production, including intermission.

She described the plot as being about a bunch of "has-been" actors who are after a "last hurrah." So they stage a murder mystery.

The opening act of "Drop Dead" is actually a dress rehearsal for them, she said, during which everything that can go wrong does, often with hilarity. The second half is their real performance and several of them mysteriously die. Their challenge then becomes finding the murderer.

"The title 'Drop Dead' has been explained as meaning what the audience will do from laughing," she said.

The company's cast includes several veterans, but a lot of newcomers, too, Johnson said. The players are: Clay Anderson, Bob Baker, Kate Baker, Dion Carpenter, Rob Daugherty, Liz Gerke, Deb Kariesch, John MacLennen and Gary Thurber, besides the director.

"I'm Constance Crawford," she said, indicating the part is a 90-year-old lady who's deaf and senile. The last time she appeared on stage herself was in the company's production of "Lil' Abner," around three years ago.

Outfitted in costume, as were the others in the troupe, Johnson was busy at the rehearsal with details such as arranging key lighting and dealing with props. She said the story involves thespians who are on a low budget, so most of the props are in the form of artwork painted on the set walls by MacLellen and herself, among other cast members. A couch serves as a centerpiece for the action on stage.

Work on the company's latest effort began in late fall, she said. The rights to the play were secured and scripts obtained. Auditions were conducted around the end of October. Rehearsals began in early December, with several cast changes occurring since then.

The dinner portion of the theatre experience is being arranged by the Ames staff, she said. There will be an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring three entrees--beef tips, salmon and chicken breast--plus two choices of soup, salad bar and dessert. Dining will start approximately one hour before the curtain rises, at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. show at the evening performances and 1 p.m. for the 2 p.m. show at the matinees.

Performances got underway last week and continue this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, plus Friday-Sunday, March 23-25, and Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31. Tickets are $25 ($12.50 for children) and are available by calling 1-800-498-0752 or 425-7969.