‘An Inconvenient CORPSE’

A touch of the spooky, or haunting, is the usual highlight of October’s annual Hawkeye Dessert Theatre.

Not this year.

Instead, while “An Inconvenient Corpse” does have a suspicious death, it focuses more on comedy.

“By page four I was laughing,” said Director Jeff Bluml. “I had a different play picked when they asked me to direct. And then I saw this one, and I hadn’t read it before, so I read it.

“Usually when you read a play you don’t just break out laughing. By the time I finished reading it, I had switched plays. I knew this is the one I wanted to do.”

Set in the “good old South,” the play begins when town bigwig Darryl Burdett dies mysteriously at a brunch put on by the Ladies of the Deep South women’s club, Bluml said.

“His grandfather, Eldon Smoot, has passed away. He was a multimillionaire, the town benefactor,” he said. “He ends up being the inconvenient corpse.Then they have to figure out what to do with the body.”

“They’re not sure how he died. They think it may be because one of their members poisoned him,” said Joan Meyer, who plays the president of the ladies’ club. “They’re feeling the need to protect themselves.”

The play then goes hard and fast until the end, said actor Jim Von Dolteren.

“What I like about the play is there’s a lot of one-liners, and it’s a lot of quick comedy. There’s not a lot of down time in there,” Von Dolteren said. “Once you get going, it just goes, and it doesn’t stop until the end. There’s no lulls.”

The quick pace is one of the challenges, Bluml said. Characters are running in and out the whole time, and timing is critical.

“Getting people to come in and out the doors, to keep that timing going has been a challenge,” he said.

“Jeff’s had a whale of a job trying to herd cats,” Von Dolteren said, “because we’ve had teenagers who are involved in the play, doing the first part. And he’s trying to introduce new people who have never been on the stage before.”

“It’s a large cast. It’s got cheerleaders, the Women of the Deep South, the mayor, the town doctor, the sheriff and everybody,” Bluml said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I want to do this play,’ and didn’t really consider all the parts. Then when I’m getting ready to cast it, all of a sudden I’m like, ‘Holy cow, this has 18 people in it!’

“I had bunch of kids show up for the cheerleader parts in it, and instead of having three, I just took them all, so now I have a cast of 21.”

Von Dolteren plays the town mayor.

“He’s mainly like a caricature of a small-town southern mayor,” Von Dolteren said. “He’s always walking around shaking hands, saying ‘How y’all doing today,’ being all friendly – but he keeps little secrets tucked away.”

Everyone in town has secrets – and they may all be revealed by a little black book in which Smoot kept records of all his dealings in the town.

In the middle of the play, visitors can buy desserts to support local charities.

Homemade cakes and pies will be served by the Xi Delta Epsilon service sorority.

The sorority has raised money for the Beacon of Hope Men’s Shelter and the Foster Grandparents program, and often gives to needy families at the holidays. It also contributes to an Iowa Central Community College scholarship every year, said sorority member Bev Totten.

Some of the money will go toward Hawkeye Theatre’s new looping technology, she said, which will allow the theater to send sound from the stage directly to its audience’s hearing aids.

An assortment of desserts will be available every night.

“Myself, with this season I usually make apple Danish,” Totten said. “We have four ladies who work each night. Everybody brings two different desserts, so there will probably be eight things to choose from.

“We’ve always been told our desserts are good, so we go with the tried-and-sure things we’ve brought to the theater before. And with four ladies each night, we get a good variety.”