Camden High Drama Club students (l-r) Meghan Lenhart, 16, and Julianne Johnson, 15, perform as
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Brett A. Clark

Camden High Drama Club students (l-r) Meghan Lenhart, 16, and Julianne Johnson, 15, perform as "Lucy" and "Ethel" during a rehearsal for their upcoming Mystery Dinner Theater performance in the play "Trouble at the Tropicana" at the Elizabeth City Shrine Club, Saturday, Feb. 16. Staff photo by Brett A. Clark

13 may be Mystery Dinner Theater’s lucky number

By Miranda Murray

The Daily Advance

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The number 13 often gets a bad rap because of its association with bad luck, so much so that there’s even a name for the fear of it: triskaidekaphobia.

The Camden Education Foundation will host its 13th annual Mystery Theater Dinner next month to raise money for local teachers. Fortunately, this number is more likely to signal the continuing success of the Camden Education Foundation’s mystery theater dinner than the fates of the play’s characters, so don’t be afraid to show up.

The play, called “Trouble at Tropicana,” was inspired by an “I Love Lucy” episode and features a cast of familiar characters.

Audiences will get a chance to polish up their sleuthing skills while also participating in the action on stage and getting a good laugh as well.

Ricky Ricardo could come around to start a round of the macarena, or Ethel Mertz might come over and ask a question. The characters also sell clues for $1 during the dessert break if audience members need a little help – just remember that they might not be telling the truth.

The table that solves the whodunit first wins a prize.

“It’s much better to do something fun to fundraise money,” said Pat Cuthrell, who has been a driving force behind the mystery theater dinners from the start.

Cuthrell has worn many hats through the years, both on- and off-stage, while helping with the play, but this year is sticking to her role as a producer. Lynne McLain, who first joined the production in 2011 as a performer, will be directing the play.

McLain said Cuthrell had asked for her assistance again this year after she stepped in last year because of the death of Cuthrell’s husband.

Cuthrell said the play raised about $3,000 last year. Profits from the play are donated to the education foundation to fund mini-grants for teachers. Camden County educators can apply for up to $500 in grant money, which in the past has been used toward such purchases as iPads, a weather forecasting kit or owl pellets for use in the classroom.

In addition to bringing additional funding to the classroom, the Mystery Dinner Theater also provides a creative outlet for Camden County students. This is the second year that the Camden County High School drama club has helped with the mystery theater.

“They bring a lot of energy

and excitement,” said Cuthrell. “Most of them wouldn’t have an outlet for their creativity.”

After the school’s drama teacher retired two years ago, drama club members have struggled to find a new leader.

Darius Gregory, a senior who plays Fred Mertz, wants to pursue theater in college and couldn’t think of a better way to spend his weekend than rehearsing.

“Our old drama club ended after the presidents quit. This is our only opportunity.”

Julianne Johnson, a high school sophomore who plays Ethel Mertz, said “I think we’re really thankful for Miss Pat, and everything she’s done for us and how amazing she is.”

Jackie Arvaneh, a family and consumer service teacher at CCHS, has since taken over the drama club and is working at creating more opportunities for the students, which includes helping Cuthrell with the play.

“It helps their self-esteem, it’ll help them with public speaking and gives them a sense

of belonging,” she said.

The play typically runs about three hours from start to finish, which includes breaks for dinner and dessert. Dinner, which is prepared by Shrine Club members, will include baked ham and pineapple and sweet potato casserole on the menu. Coffee, tea and dessert will also be provided.

Tickets are $25 per person and sold in advance. There are also corporate table options available.

The play takes place at the Elizabeth City Shrine Club and starts at 7 p.m. on March 8-9 and at 1 p.m. on March 10. To make a reservation, call Pat Cuthrell at 252-336-2398.

Miranda Murray is a correspondent for The Daily Advance.

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