Published 10:20 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Usually, crime in schools is not tolerated.

But in John F. Kennedy Middle School’s case, one felony is not only being tolerated, it is being encouraged.

The school’s drama club is presenting two performances of the “The Walter Patterson Mystery,” this Thursday.

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The play is a typical murder mystery, where Walter Patterson —a self-absorbed, yet genius geneticist — is found dead at the beginning of the play and the cast spends the body of the play trying to find out his killer.

But as in most murder mysteries, there is a twist.

During the show’s intermission, audience members are encouraged to come up stage and meet with the play’s cast of characters and interrogate them for themselves.

Then, following the end of the play, the audience votes on who it thinks the real killer is.

“The audience is more involved than in a regular play,” said Kathy Applebee, the drama club sponsor. “They play a huge hand in the outcome of the play.”

The students had to prepare two endings to the play — one in case the audience’s guess right and another in case the audience’s guess wrong.

“You’re not just sitting there,” said Alexis Brueggeman, who plays a cadet’s assistant, Candy Cane. “They have a chance to get involved and really alter the show.”

Another unique aspect of the production is the dialogue. The students are responsible for improvising their own lines within the outline of a specific plot.

“It was really, really stressful because we weren’t used it,” said cast member Kacy Amory. “But, then, it would get fun and exciting, because we got used to doing something new.”

It is a challenging exercise for trained acting groups, let alone a middle-school drama club, but Applebee said she is certain the 10 actors are up to it.

“There are adult groups that are not as good as these guys,” Applebee said. “They really don’t know what they’re going to do until the last minute, but these guys can handle it.”

By the first act, accusations — as well as fists — are flying as the characters get into the heat of the investigation.

The actors said that’s most of the fun.

“You take on a different personality when you’re into a character,” said Justin Libbey, who plays Cadet Action Jackson.

Castmate Brendan La Dieu agreed.

“You’re someone completely different,” La Dieu said. “I think it will be fun for the audience to see all these different personalities on stage and still try and figure out who is the one who killed someone.”

The cast’s first performance Thursday is for JFK students only. The second will begin at 6 p.m. Tickets are $3. All proceeds from the show will benefit the drama club.