Laura W. Andruski has a taste for murder.
The Rockville resident is not a criminal. Rather, as founder and artistic director of A Taste for Murder Productions, a for-profit LLC that stages live interactive mystery theater, she is bringing a new show to the Kentlands Mansion this weekend, in collaboration with Gaithersburg’s Arts on the Green.
“I’ve been a working theater professional for over 35 years,” said Andruski. “As a professional stage manager, an arts administrator, a director — and I currently work as an arts administrator and theater program coordinator over at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn, which is how I met Kristy King,” the Kentlands Mansion’s facility manager.
Four years ago, when King expressed interest in bringing Murder in the Mansion to the Kentlands, Andruski was all in, and an increasingly successful collaboration was born. The latest co-production, “A Calamity in Camelot,” features familiar characters like King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, Mordred, Morgan le Fay and The Lady of Lake — plus murder most foul and an opportunity for audience members in Renaissance Faire attire to guess whodunit and win prizes.
It also features a lavish dessert spread at intermission, with a variety of pastries and cookies, (plus gluten-free options), fresh fruit, and coffee, water and lemonade included in the ticket price — and a cash bar for those who prefer soft drinks, beer and wine.
“This particular play, ‘A Calamity in Camelot’ was written by Stan Levin, a friend of mine,” Andruski said. Levin approached the director, explaining that he had written the script more than 20 years ago for a skit at his synagogue, and that it “hadn’t seen the light of day” since then.
“He turned it over to me and signed over the royalties so I could present it however I wanted to, as long as I had him listed as the playwright,” she explained, adding that the majority of the scripts A Taste for Murder uses are original, and tailored by Andruski, who works closely with playwright Dean Fiala to make them fit a particular paradigm.
“The main part of the performance takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and 10 minutes — and then someone is ‘ruthlessly murdered,” she explained. “Then they break for dessert.”
At that point, each audience member is given a detective’s ballot and asked to make a prediction about the murderer and the motive. After 15 minutes or so — however long it takes for folks to finish their dessert and coffee — the show resumes. “Those who have deduced appropriately, their ballots are put to the side, and we come back for what we call ‘the reveal and confession’ — and the prizes!”
They draw prizes for first, second and third place, and the cast comes out to take pictures with the audience, many who are there in costume. “For ‘Calamity in Camelot,’ we’re encouraging our patrons to dress up in their best medieval and Ren Faire finery for an opportunity to win an additional prize,” Andruski said. “Tickets for future performances, a nice bottle of wine: We usually try to tie it to the show.”
Despite its medieval setting, “A Calamity in Camelot” makes use of a sound system Andruski likes to call ‘Bard in a Box,’ and the cast of six consists of actors handpicked for the production. “I’m very privileged,” she said. “Casting is by invitation only. I have a stable of people that I go to regularly to do these shows, and I can reach out to some of the best of the best in Montgomery County and beyond.”
Andruski tries to create a schedule that will accommodate the professional actors she uses, allowing them to continue their D.C. theater scene roles while joining A Taste for Murder casts. “It usually works out really well,” she said.
This show will be performed place outside, taking advantage of the Kentland Mansion’s recently renovated side garden to recreate King Arthur’s realm, with its tradition of happy-ever-aftering gone horribly wrong.
“The Kentlands Mansion was looking for a play that would be appropriate to do outdoors,” Andruski noted. “It’s a beautiful little courtyard setting, just perfect for Camelot.” But staging “Calamity in Camelot” in the side garden, which she said is primarily used for weddings, has had its ups and downs because of this summer’s unpredictable weather. “Unless the weather is very, very hot or very, very wet, we will perform out-of-doors, but we have the option of going inside if we have to.”
Which is especially important when the audience is coming in costume, a tradition for core of A Taste for Murder Productions.
“We’ve done plays where people came dressed up as 1920s flappers and gangsters,” Andruski noted. “This season at the Kentlands Mansion we’re actually doing three shows: ‘Calamity in Camelot,’ then in October, we’ll be premiering a new play that has a Victorian theme, and then in the spring: ‘Kill Again’s Island,’ which as you can imagine, is something of an homage to ‘Gilligan’s Island.’”
For that, Andruski said, the audience could go full Skipper, Ginger or Marianne, or just wear Hawaiian shirts. Wearing a costume isn’t necessary, but it’s fun — and for this kind of semi-interactive show, where a handful of audience members are invited onstage to speak a line or perform an action, it increases the chances of being picked to take part.
“We sometimes get people who call in for tickets and say, ‘Can I volunteer now, please?’’ Andruski said. “Sometimes they’re celebrating a birthday, and they want to be part of our merry madness.”
The madness is recommended for ages 15 and up, due to some “gentle double-entendres” as well as marital infidelity and, of course, the make-believe murder.
“Why does somebody murder somebody else? It’s either love or money,” Andruski laughed, adding that the show makes a perfect date night, birthday or anniversary celebration or girls night out, and the violence either happens just off stage, or in an over-the-top meets tongue-in-cheek manner.
“We don’t want to leave too much ‘blood’ on the beautiful mansion floor,” she added. Or in the garden, or anywhere else. All Andruski and her troupe want to leave behind is an audience that’s happy — and full of delicious desserts and great memories.
“It makes for a fun and different way to engage in the theater arts,” she said. “It’s a fun two-hour romp, it really is!”
“Calamity in Camelot” starts at 7 p.m. Friday, July 26 and Saturday, July 27 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 28 at the Kentlands Mansion, 320 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg. Tickets are $35 per person, $60 per couple, and include a dessert buffet and non-alcoholic beverages. A cash bar will be available for those 21 and older. Call 301-258-6394 or visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov.