Ripley Library Players return with successful show

WESTFIELD — No one knew who the killer was, not even the actors.

Nearly 100 people took a ride on the Petulant Express and did their best to ferret out a killer as the Ripley Library Players returned to Noble Winery after a three-year hiatus to produce an evening of laughs, good food and, of course, murder.

Guests were invited to travel to the year 1937 and try to figure out who killed business tycoon Peter Petulant as the actors presented “Murder on the Petulant Express.”

The unique facet of this performance was that the audience was not the only ones who did not know “who done it.” Director Teresa Testrake only allowed the actors to learn their lines from the first and second acts. The only character who did know the identity of the murderer was chief investigator and narrator Lawrence Law, played by Zachary Mota.

Of course, Law was not about to reveal the guilty party until the third act. “I do think the killer will be revealed,” Law said between acts. “I have been compiling all of the data and we are close to the solution…There is enough evidence, both the obviously obvious and the ambiguously obvious.”

According to Law, Petulant was found dead in his posh railroad car after a short stop in Akron, Ohio. He was discovered by one of the porters (Jade Shampoe and Emerald Wiech), stabbed from behind by a small round object and still holding his crystal champagne glass and solid silver cigarette case.

Guests enjoyed homemade appetizers and a complimentary glass of wine as they listened to the train passengers speak about themselves and their relationship to Petulant. In the second act, things turned vindictive as the characters were quick to reveal secrets about one another. It seemed that everyone on board had a motive, but, as mystery writer Christine Agatha (Rhonda Thompson) was quick to remind the audience, there must also be means and opportunity.

It’s wasn’t an easy decision. Spectators and actors alike, asked: Could it be the Italian opera singer Arianna Altamonte (Laurel Adams) who has a penchant for fine things? Or Kid Root, (Danny Rowe) the New York baseball star who was very angry at having been traded to Chicago at the behest of Petulant?

The fashion designer Francine Cooper (Jan Culp) relied on Petulant to sell her creations around the world. Bur, it was revealed, neither she nor Kid Root ever knew their father. And the Norwegian figure skater Tonya Fennie (Amy Neer) had been promised a movie contract by Petulant, but something seems to have gone awry with that.

Thurm Stroman, (Pete Ryan) is a southern senator with over-the-top patriotic ideas. Did he suspect that Petulant was selling American ideas and processes to foreigners? Petulant also associated with the German brew master Franz Fassmacher (John Hamels). Since it is the eve of World War II, could there be a political motive for the murder?

Also on the scene is the rough-and-tumble Dingo Dugan, an Australian crocodile hunter who blamed Petulant for the death of Amelia Earhart. And one must not forget the aforementioned writer Christine Agatha, who is rumored to test the accuracy of her plots in real life.

Once the characters had made themselves known to the audience and also had the opportunity to cast suspicion on one another, it was the audiences turn to do the sleuthing. Each table was permitted to ask four questions of each character. And then came the time to vote for the most likely killer.

When all was said and done, the killer was revealed to be none other than….No, the guilty party cannot be named here, because the library plans to schedule another performance at a date yet to be announced. Readers will just have to attend the second showing to find out who killed Peter Petulant.

“Because we had so much demand, we decided we are going to put on an encore presentation,” Testrake said. “I feel very, very happy and very grateful for all of the support that’s been shown for the library.”

Testrake has special praise for the actors. “They are fantastic. The characters are unique and the actors are really committed to their characters.

Testrake said the return of the Ripley Library players was the start of an effort to promote many arts — music, theater and writing — to the Ripley area as part of the Main Street Revitalization project.

Testrake thanked all those who helped make the production a reality, but especially Noble Winery, which donated the location for the performance.

Winery owner Pete Noble, when asked if the winery space was donated to the library responded, “Absolutely! We are here to support the library,” he said. “For years, the library had to scratch and dig to pay their heating bills and such. I lived in Ripley for a while and we all have ties to Ripley.”