April 11, 2002 – Little Theater productions on the St. Thomas campus of the University of the Virgin Islands have long had a reputation for being innovative. But this weekend's spring semester offering is something really different at UVI — a play in which the audience decides the ending.
It's a comedy/mystery called "Knock 'Em Dead," one of a genre of audience-interactive plays often presented at dinner theaters and even on the occasional thespian train trip on the mainland.
The play, written by Tom Oldendick and Will Roberson, is a presentation of UVI's dynamic speech and theater area trio, Rosary Harper, Dennis Parker and Michael Prenevost.
According to Parker, who's directing, "Our fall production was a modernization of the classic tragedy 'Oedipus Rex' called 'Rex,' so we decided to end the season at the other end of the spectrum with a modernization of the traditional farce."
The story takes place (why are you not surprised?) on a dark and rainy night. But the action is inside — in a run-down comedy club called Vinnie's Bellylaugh. "A motley crowd of disparate performers has gathered for the finals of a seemingly innocent talent show," Parker says. But Vinnie ends up seriously dead, and a detective is faced with figuring out whodunnit.
Audience members get to act as witnesses and assist in the murder investigation. They even have the opportunity to meet and interrogate the characters during the intermission, the better to decide for themselves who the guilty party is. Performances will have different murderers, so if you don't go for opening night, don't worry about somebody who did "giving away" the solution to the crime.
The cast is the usual Little Theater amalgam of town, gown and student talent that audiences have come to appreciate:
Pat Hector plays Roxie Barn, a wisecracking comedienne; John Brooks-Barr is a flamboyant singer named Ian who works with a lip-synching dog named Fifi (played by a stuffed animal); and Tavis DeWindt portrays the club master of ceremonies, Lou Dumbello.
UVI math professor Doug Iannucci is cast as The Great Somnambulo, a hypnotist; Adrienne Monet appears as Lotta Verboten, a blues singer; and China Hamilton plays Bamby Lynn, a baton-twirler. Dwyght Browne appears as Detective Hal Brown — who disguises himself as a ventriloquist — and Trey Arthur Thomas III plays the ill-fated Vinnie.
Prenevost is in charge of technical direction and Harper is creating the costimes and handling house management and publicity.
The play was chosen with a number of considerations in mind, Parker said. "It's UVI's 40th anniversary this year, so something special was called for to celebrate it," he said. "This is our first interactive production. It is also a good choice for the V.I. Carnival season. Like all farces, it is a real roogoodoo. The farce traditionally has risque humor, lots of double entendres, exaggerated pantomime and absurd situations. The characters are played broadly almost to caricature. The goal is bellylaughs for all!"
In addition to offering box-office appeal, Parker said, the play is a good learning vehicle for the UVI theater students. "Audience participation comedy/mysteries have become very popular in the states, especially at dinner theaters," he said, "and we like to keep our majors abreast of what is currently going on in the field of theater."
The play had its debut in 1990 at the Phoenix Little Theatre in Arizona. It's been produced once before in the Virgin Islands, in 1999 by the now-disbanded Keep Left Theater Company on St. John. "See it again, or for the first time at the UVI Little Theater," Parker invited.
Performances are Friday through Monday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for others. They're being sold on campus at the bookstore and the Humanities Division Office and in town at Nisky Pharmacy and Dockside Bookshop. Tickets also may be available at the theater on performance nights, but Little Theater productions often sell out, so pre-purchasing is highly recommended.

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