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Shadow Mountain Players bring the Queen of Crime to Pahrump

When a friend of artist and amateur theater enthusiast Laurie McCaslin said she was going to Las Vegas to see a play by famed British mystery writer Agatha Christie “because you’ll never find anything like that in Pahrump,” McCaslin said she remembers thinking, “Oh yeah? Just wait.”

Six years later, she and Pahrump’s Shadow Mountain Community Players are mounting their fifth new production of a sophisticated Christie murder-mystery play.

A dinner theater presentation of “Ten Little Indians” opens this Friday night at the Nevada Treasure RV Resort and runs Friday and Saturday nights through March 9.

“Ten Little Indians,” also known as “And Then There Were None,” was originally written as a novel in 1939. Christie, who passed away in 1976 and is known as the Queen of Crime for her mystery stories, once said she was pleased with the complexity of the plot, which had taken “a tremendous amount of planning.” When asked to dramatize it for the theater, she spent another two years carefully rearranging the story so that it could be contained on stage.

For the Shadow Mountain Players, Agatha Christie was a way to take their amateur theatricals to the next level. Laurie McCaslin and her parents, Carlton and Gayle McCaslin, are the nucleus of this amateur group. They got their start about 15 years ago doing old-fashioned melodramas during the Wild West Extravaganza for fun, Laurie McCaslin said.

Her mother, Gayle, is the director of the current production, Laurie said, and she helps out as co-director, technical adviser and with staging.

Laurie’s father, Carlton, well known for his lively performances as the villain in many Shadow Mountain Productions, and her daughter, Alyssia McCaslin-Statz, who’s been performing with the company since she was 12, are both actors in the upcoming show.

Also acting as art director, Laurie gets to “create the worlds they live in.”

The sets for the Christie plays include backdrops on a series of large 4x8 panels painted with bookcases, windows, doors and other elements of a British country home or hotel.

McCaslin says her family also has a shed packed with a variety of furniture and other props that were donated to the group or purchased in second-hand stores or at yard sales over the years.

The McCaslins are skilled at making costumes and once owned a custom period reenactment costume company, McCaslin said. They sew, alter and are sometimes fortunate enough to find costume pieces that are already perfect for the part.

Flashy productions are beyond Shadow Mountain’s budget, McCaslin said, so “we rely on subtle staging,” as well as bargain shopping, skill and ingenuity.

The company does charge admission for their performances, but McCaslin said that out of the $25 to $30 ticket price comes the cost of catering the dinners, props and costumes, scripts, and royalty fees, which can cost as much as $150 per performance.

The eleven actors in the cast, many of whom have been with the Shadow Mountain Players for years, are all volunteers. “We have a lot of talent in this group,” McCaslin said. It was another reason the company chose the Christie plays, to offer their really talented actors something more substantial.

Alyssia McCaslin-Statz grew up with the Shadow Mountain Players and in this year’s show plays Vera Claythorne, one of 10 guests invited to a nearly deserted island by a mystery host for nefarious reasons of his own.

The cast started rehearsing in October, McCaslin said, and have been meeting twice a week. This week, McCaslin said, they will rehearse every night leading up to the opening.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” McCaslin said, “But when everything is said and done and we’ve got a show that comes off really good — not perfect, but really good. Hearing those people applaud is the reward.”

Robin Flinchum is a freelance writer and editor living in Tecopa, California.

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