If the days of stuffy high school theatre are gone, I say good riddance. Even when I was in drama club 15 years ago, The Pirates of Penzance and most traditional amateur dramatic fare was yawn-inspiring.

If the days of stuffy high school theatre are gone, I say good riddance. Even when I was in drama club 15 years ago, The Pirates of Penzance and most traditional amateur dramatic fare was yawn-inspiring.

If I have to sit through one more act of Our Town, I might just ‘gibbs’ my dinner right into my chapeau.

“Employees Must Wash Hands…Before Murder” is a modern play written with contemporary actors in mind. The use of pop culture themes, awkward pauses, non sequiturs and multi-media elements fit well with high-school age performers and I think it was a great choice by Kiowa County High School Drama Director Kim McMurry. 

While the grandparents might scratch their heads at the Star Wars references, the actors and perhaps some younger parents likely delighted in the manic, jumbled and absurd structure of the play.

The short piece, penned by oft-eccentric Actor’s Studio graduate Don Zolidis, tells the story of a low-rent hamburger restaurant called The Burgatorium. When the manager is murdered during a routine health inspection, the employees and health inspectors search for the murderer.

Charity Schmidt, Patty Torres and Lexi Behee make up a well-rounded ensemble of sarcastic and daftly-sweet Burgatorium employees led by congested Manager Torok, played by KCHS junior Shad Butler.

Butler’s performance, while not the loudest and craziest, is memorable and defined.  Butler as the “straight man” works well.

Cody McVey’s portrayal as Steve “The Fry Master,” was memorable but somewhat inconsistent.

While McVey hit on all of the most absurd one-liners and garnered some of the loudest laughs of the evening (particularly when his character tries to bribe the inspectors with pocket change) “The Fry Master” was a bit one-dimensional, redeemed by McVey’s natural comedic timing.

Debbie, aptly played by Lakin Titus, has a crush on Scabby a hunchbacked janitor played by Aaric Kipp.

Kipp, employing an Igor-esque accent, was able to bring a vulnerability to the supposed-to-be-an-obvious-suspect Scabby, who scuttles into his cave in the first act to hide from the inspectors.

Kipp misses an opportunity to establish potential murderous tendencies and rides the “nice guy who gets a bad rap” train to the end, although this could be attributed to the writing. Kipp never had a chance to really stretch his acting muscles in this one and I am looking forward to seeing what he can do in future productions. He has an inherent vulnerability that will serve him well.

Maddie Cannon and Miranda Kimble both explode onto the stage as bright costumed characters, Cannon as Birdie The Bird, a long-forgotten McDonald’s mascot, and Kimble as a giant singing tapeworm.

Both actors did quite well, though it appeared their performances suffered from opening night jitters.

Arguably the main characters, Kadie Larsh and Lillian Hinshaw, playing Health Inspector Jenkins and a Health Department Intern respectively, overwhelm the gang of low-level burger flippers from the get-go.

Larsh, playing the towering and “in control” Jenkins, commanded every scene she was in. She was every bit the loud and pushy health department inspector she was supposed to be, though the occasional line trouble took her out of some scenes.

I have mixed feelings about playwright Zolidis’s choice to make the Intern a stereotypical Ebonics-spewing suburbanite.

The upper-middle class Caucasian character emulating African-American culture is a cultural dinosaur. But that didn’t take away from Hinshaw’s spot-on parody and manic delivery of the intern character.

Hinshaw seemed to understand the “always on” philosophy, continuing to act as her character when she isn’t delivering lines, though it was, on occasion, distracting.

One of the best parts of playing a character like the intern is the moment when reality forces her to drop the “yeah-yeah what up” façade and remind the audience that the extroverted loudmouth persona is simply a costume. Hinshaw recognized that moment (when the intern realizes she has to actually do some work and says “I don’t know how to do that.”) but wasn’t able to extend it into other aspects of her performance.

While the “jive” talk got her plenty of easy laughs, I expected more depth from the high school theater veteran.

Denisse Ramos and Emily Sarber provided a humorous aside as the fussy child and matter-of-fact mother with Ramos making a second appearance as the Fairy of Copyright Infringement, who carts off Cannon’s Birdie in the second half.

John Colclazier also pulled double-duty, first in an employee training video as J. Tyler, founder of Burgatorium and later as the George Bush-esque defense lawyer.

Colclazier is a natural and seemed comfortable and confident.

A real interesting aspect of the performance was the integration of video.

The employee training film, shown as a supplement to the stage action, is a Burgatorium training film which depicts its founding by J.Tyler (Colclazier).

Colcazier, Cannon, Kimble, Butler and Hinshaw all played secondary roles in the video, which was directed by Kadie Larsh.

The video, produced in conjunction with the Kiowa County Media Center, was a great addition to the overall production, though I felt it ran a bit too long.

With its strong ensemble, modern themes and multi-media presentation the play was a joy to watch.