By David Prenatt
RIPLEY - Billionaire businessman Ronald Stump's 70th birthday party ended with a bang - and so did his life.
Photo by David Prenatt
Elena Stump (Jeanette Almenkinder), the wife of the deceased, talks with audience member about the case.
Such was the start of "Happy Death Day to You," a murder mystery dinner presented to a sell-out audience by the Ripley Free Library at the Noble Winery Saturday, Sept. 12. This year's presentation was dedicated to fellow thespian Roger Testrake, who passed away in September.
A "dream-team of the rich and famous" had gathered at a 70th birthday party for Stump, played by Bob Albright. A special cake, made by his favorite chef, Wolfpack Ruck, (Jim Zarpentine) was wheeled out and the well-wishers sang a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday to You. But when Stump came forward, the cake gave off a loud bang. The businessman grasped at his heart, staggered and fell to the ground dead,
It was no accident. Stump had made many enemies over the years, some of which were present at the party, according to Sheriff Lucy Law, (Robyn Albright), who presented the case to the audience. Ronald Stump was murdered and the murderer was in the room.
Wolfpack Ruck had long produced pastries favored by Stump. But Stump never allowed him to put nuts into anything. The cake he baked for the birthday party contained fireworks which cause the bang, Few knew, however, that Stump was also a silent partner in Ruck's bakery business, "Lots of Ruck." Ruck resented the control that Stump exerted over his financial and personal life. Furthermore, Ruck has struck up a romantic relationship with Stump's former beau, Polly Darken.
Country singer Polly Darken (Pam Zarpentine) also had reason to wish Stump ill. After several years as Stump's romantic interest, she was dumped for the former Miss Galaxy from Romania, Elena Dalca, who became Elena Stump four years ago.
Elena Stump (Jeanette Almekinder) had everything a woman could want as Stump's wife except love. She felt increasingly alone as Stump focused more and more on his business affairs.
One of those affairs involved billionaire energy entrepreneur T. Bone Perkins (Tim Elkin), who had recently shifted his allegiance from coal and gas to renewable sources of energy, such as wind, air and sun. Stump had allowed Perkins to build solar panels on top of Stump Tower, but then backed out of their multi-million dollar deal.
Stump had also ventured into cyberspace and wanted to buy out the lucrative Faceshow website created by the youngest multi-billionaire in the world, Zack Muckenburg (Mark Bowman). "I can make things happen," Muckenburg said. "Stump knew this and he couldn't wait to get his hands on that power."
Stump's aspirations also extended to the political arena, where he was becoming a threat to his old friend, Mayor Garibaldi Roody (Mike Rowe). Roody enjoyed the lack of opposition he encountered, until Stump decided to run for his office.
On the social scene, Stump had his enemies. Tris Makinmoney (George Davis) a professional gambler, had won $1 million in the World Poker Championship, held at the Oceanside Stump Grand Casino. Stump himself handed Makinmoney the check, but also considered him a cheater. "I just like the odds in my favor," Makinmoney said.
Then there was Willomena Sorrens (Laurel Adams), a professional tennis star whose career Stump had financed. He wielded considerable influence over her as a result. Would he stand in her way of being the spokesperson for the new and improved Power Play nutrition bars that contained nuts, something that Stump never ate?
What about Stump's personal trainer Michele Millions (Dorothy Swan). He had supported her best-selling fitness program but adamantly denied that she was actually his niece, the daughter of his deceased brother, Harold. Harold had died of a hereditary congenital heart defect. "I know everything there is to know about Ron's healt, " she said.
And finally there was Nora Rabbitt (Jan Culp), the investigative reporter for the New Metro Inquisitor. She claimed to know all sorts of secrets about Stump and was including them in her articles until Stump brought a lawsuit against her to ruin her.
Yes, everyone had a reason to want Stump dead. After defending their innocence and accusing each other, the suspects wandered from table to table giving the audience a chance to ask questions.
But at the end of the night, it was revealed that the killer was none other than Michele Millions. She tricked Stump into eating one of the new Power Play bars with nuts, knowing this would cause an anaphylactic reaction, closing his airway. This, coupled with the surprise "bang" from the cake caused a massive heart attack.
The play was directed by Theresa Testrake and assistant director Robyn Albright. It was produced by Nancy McIntosh.