Pictured is the cast of Wagon Wheel Community Theatre’s production of “Murder in Black & White.” Photo Provided.
Pictured is the cast of Wagon Wheel Community Theatre’s production of “Murder in Black & White.” Photo Provided.
An audience-participation murder mystery involving nuns and women named Ann White takes to the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts stage this weekend and next.

Show times for the Wagon Wheel Community Theatre production of “Murder in Black & White” are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and April 29 and 30. Tickets are $20 for adults and $150 for groups of eight, and can be purchased at the Wagon Wheel box office or online at wagonwheelcenter.org.

“So there is this elegant courtroom scene that was supposed to happen, and you find immediately when the murder mystery begins, everything is thrown off,” said Director Kathryn Anders. “So we have several women who are named Ann White who just happen to be here. The further we get into it, the more we find out the Ann Whites have more in common.”

She said there is a murder to solve with lots of suspects, and several of the suspects have the same name.

Anders said they have a couple people coming to see the show whose names are Ann White, but “it’s just a fluke. They just happen to have the same name.”

She said she hates to limit people to one weekend to see the show because some people have conflicts, so that is one reason the murder mystery is being offered over two weekends.

Those who go see the show may recognize some familiar faces from the community.

“We have roped in (Kosciusko Home Care & Hospice Executive Director) Glenn Hall and (Warsaw Mayor) Joe Thallemer to become our couple of celebrity guests. Joe Thallemer is having a little bit more fun than I thought he was going to with his part, so it’s been fun to see him come on stage,” Anders said.

Twenty-six community individuals are part of the show, with a few helping backstage. About 20 will appear on stage, she said. “Which was nice because originally the script didn’t call for that many people, but I was able to include (more). It is wonderful that we have so many community members who want to be involved.”

The Wagon Wheel Community Theatre does a murder mystery every year. This is Anders’ fifth involvement with the mystery. She started on stage with Jennifer Shepherd directing.

“After that first one, I assisted directed  for the other four. This will be the first time I directed solo, but I’ve kind of been groomed to take over this position for Jennifer,” Anders said.

Shepherd died Nov. 8, 2021.

Anders said Shepherd is an “honorary director” for this murder mystery.

“We can’t really have a murder mystery without her because she just had such an impact to get this thing going,” she said.

In the show, Katie Davis plays a waitress; Emily Shipley plays a kindergarten teacher; Hannah Carter plays an escort. “Those are our three Ann Whites,” Anders said.

Local attorney Jay Rigdon plays a cop, while Eric Schaefer, from Plymouth, plays Sid.

The community theater started about eight years ago, and Anders said it continues to improve every year.

“We started out with a small group of people, and we see that the more times we have auditions, we have more people coming out. We have people coming from Columbia City, from Syracuse, from Plymouth, from surrounding areas. And we are really developing a high-quality show. I’ve directed or been a part of seven or eight shows now and I think the quality of our performances and the quality of our actors have gone up tremendously,” Anders said.

The murder mysteries they’ve done have all been written by the same person - Eileen Moushey. She happened to be a friend of Shepherd’s that went to college with her.

“And so we’ve just picked up scripts and there’s just been enough that we haven’t had to duplicate,” Anders said. “This one is way different from last year. Last year we did ‘Lyrical Pursuit’ where we had singing and songs and dancing. And this one is just slapstick hilarious. During practices, we are continously laughing, and I’m like, ‘Certainly, we’re going to get tired of this show.’ And we haven’t yet. The comedy in it is just really elevated.”

Jason Dugger and Melissa Jordan, who have been involved in several Community Theatre productions, are “dressed to the nines” for “Murder in Black & White,” Anders said. “We have tuxes and ballroom gowns and so we’ve gone above and beyond for the costumes and settings for this show.”

The show is probably rated PG, Anders said, because there is a non-sexual personal escort and there are “a couple of naughty words.” However, she said a lot of the humor will probably go over a child’s head.

The clue hunts get kids excited, she said, because they get to search around the theater and that’s something they don’t get to do for a normal Wagon Wheel show.

“What happens is, you get maybe 40-minute entertainment with the play. And then what happens is, we split you up into groups, or maybe you came with a group, and you hunt for clues. So we have clue packets you fill out and do puzzles or look for people or maybe have to sing a song to somebody and you’ll get clues and complete your clue list and guess who the murder is,” Anders said.

Audiences are limited to 500 people to allow for the hour-long clue search. After the search is over, there’s about a 15-minute scene to let people know who was the murderer. Prizes are being given away for the first- and second-place teams each night.

Audiences are encouraged to wear costumes in red, white and black.

“You’re going to see a lot of familiar faces, and you’re going to have a chance to have a great night,” Anders said. “I think there’s not a lot of things happening right now throughout the community. ... So, I think this is going to be a chance for people to have a girls night out, a team-building exercise for their company or being able to take their kids to something that they normally wouldn’t be able to see.”