Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Good Weekend

Last weekend should have been a great weekend. After all, it was Labor Day weekend—a three-day weekend, and you can never have too many of those. Add to that the fact that we were visiting our friends, Ron and Judie Kewish, in Arroyo Grande. We always have a wonderful time when we visit Ron and Judie, and there's the bonus of getting to spend some time on California's beautiful central coast. Finally, we got to see another of Ron and Judie's always-excellent mystery dinner theater productions.
So why wasn't it a great weekend?

I first met Ron and Judie Kewish in 1996, when the three of us began performing mystery dinner theater with John and Roxanne Diesel in Simi Valley, California. John and Roxanne were old hands at this form of theater, but it was a new experience for us. No stage, no proscenium, and—except for entrances and exits—no blocking. Just a dining room where actors roamed freely among the tables, delivering lines during scripted scenes and improvising with the audience in character during scene breaks. We started out performing a couple of scripts from Samuel French, but once we understood the formula, Roxanne and I began writing scripts ourselves.

Shortly after Ron and Judie moved to the central coast, they started their own mystery dinner theater company: Murder In Mind Productions. They began by performing the scripts we had done together in Simi Valley, and when they needed more, they asked me to write new scripts for them. Eventually, they made a name for themselves, attracting audiences from all over the central coast and as far away as Bakersfield. This year marked their tenth season.

Mark Brunasso's first performance with MIM was in 2006. He played Joey Jitters, an over-caffeinated member of the Al Cappuccino gang in a parody of the Sopranos. It wasn't a large role, but Mark made the most of it, and he quickly became an invaluable member of the MIM troupe. What made Mark invaluable was his versatility: as the victim, he could get more laughs than anyone from a death scene; as the killer, he could fool everyone with his cherubic expression; as the detective, he could handle even the rowdiest audience with ease.

My favorite of Mark's roles was Tiny Tim in Dickens of a Murder. I loved the way he would rhapsodize over "turkey, with stuffing, potatoes, and gr-a-a-a-vy!" Earlier this year, in SLO Legal, he channeled William Shatner in an unforgettable rendition of Sinatra's It Was a Very Good Year. And in MIM's latest production, Pirates of Pirates' Cove, we were looking forward to seeing him reprise the role of Ben Gay, a part he also played in the 2008 and 2010 productions of the show.

The dismal state of the economy these past few years has made life difficult for many of us. The economy has been especially hard on MIM. Each year, more and performances have had to be canceled due to lack of attendance. Finally, this summer, Ron and Judie made the difficult decision to close MIM. Although they will consider reopening if and when the economy improves, last Sunday's performance of Pirates of Pirates' Cove was, in all probability, Murder In Mind's final public performance.

Unfortunately, Mark Brunasso could not be there. Three weeks ago, he died of heart failure.

So it wasn't a great weekend, but it was a good weekend. We had a nice visit with Ron and Judie, went for a long walk on the beach, and enjoyed the show. Jeff Lee, another MIM stalwart, stepped into Mark's role with only one rehearsal. His portrayal of Ben Gay would have made Mark proud.

After the show, we all—Ron, Judie, members of the MIM troupe, Loretta, and I—raised a parting glass—

to Murder In Mind,
which may return,

and to Mark Brunasso,
who will be remembered.

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