An ominous thought crept into Kathy BleutgeÕs psyche when she attended a fantasy convention in 1996.
"WouldnÕt this be a great place for a murder?" she thought.
No, homicide is not her hobby or her vocation. Bleutge, a retired Park View High School drama teacher, enjoys theater: directing, acting, lighting, scenery and Ñ scripts. She put her idea on paper in June, but she found herself up against serious time constraints and a nasty case of writerÕs block. Her friend Terry Nelson DiMurro, a playwright with 19 plays under her belt, offered to give it a try. Bleutge read the script, made some suggestions and, voil‡, "A Star is Dead" was born.
The Sterling Playmakers will present the murder mystery dinner theater, produced by Mark Humphrey of Ashburn, at the Loudoun County Senior Center in Cascades this Friday and Saturday. The play, with 11 cast members, is set at a sci-fi/fantasy convention dinner honoring a fictitious television program, "Dragon Star Galaxy." The audience will have an opportunity to witness the interaction of the suspects and the investigation before directly questioning the suspects themselves. They are invited to wear costumes to dinner; a prize will be awarded for the best one.
Bleutge, a Sterling resident, directs the play, and DiMurro acts out the part of "X," the creator of a Web site called, "IsnÕt That Interesting Stuff (I.T. I.S.)," providing reviews of television shows and movies. She said she enjoys the tension between "X" and the Dragon Star Galaxy Show producer and actors.
"SheÕs sneaky," Dimurro said. "ItÕs fun to play the critic instead of being criticized."
WHEN DIMURRO isnÕt acting, she is writing or working as a customer service contractor at Freddie Mac. "I used to write childrenÕs stuff," she said. "I was asked to try my hand at one of these and have been writing them every since."
Her scripts have made it to stages in Atlanta, Louisville, and area communities. "I enjoy the challenge of putting enough clues in so that the audience can figure out who done it, but at the same time putting in enough red herrings to be able to fool them."
DimurroÕ parents and siblings attend all of her plays. "They vote that I did the murder even if IÕm not in the show," she said, smiling.
She lives in Sterling with her cat, Thespuss.
Herb Fuller of Reston plays Gene Asimov, a technical wizard of special effects, in the mystery. What he likes best about the character is that the wizard is an eccentric genius. "He can be temperamental and say whatever he wants and get away with it," Fuller said.
"I was typecast, you know," he added, giving into a belly laugh.
In his other life, Fuller is a network engineer at Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md. His co-workers and family attend his productions frequently.
"ItÕs a lot of fun," he said. "ItÕs a way to plug back into the community."
Terry Smith of Sterling is Detective T.D. Jones. "This was a challenge to be someone different, to read the lines, to determine what the director and author wanted."
He became interested in acting about 15 years ago, when his wife responded to an advertisement seeking a costume maker. "She went to where they were having auditions and they were short [of] men," he said.
Smith doesnÕt worry about the nearly 60 hours he puts into the play rehearsals, because his wife continues to help with costumes and does some acting herself.
WHEN HE ISNÕT on stage, he works as a "computer geek" at Northrop Grumman in McLean. He drives his co-workers crazy by slipping into his character. "My poor office gets tortured," he said, adding at some point they tell him, "Enough already."
"They support me pretty well. Sometimes they will run lines with me," he said.
Smith said he loves acting because it gives him an opportunity to step out of the day-to-day routine and be somebody else for awhile. "One day you are a good guy and the next day, you are a bad guy," he said.
Meg Roosma of Sterling is Ursala Carter, the convention events coordinator. As an information security analyst for CACI in Chantilly, she said itÕs a challenge learning her lines in her spare time. She is mom to two teenagers. "They are glad I have a fun hobby, but they wish they could see more of me instead of me going off to rehearsals."
She likes that her character is very organized and in control. "I wish I were like that," she said.
Roosma said she enjoys entertaining people. "I also like to work with other creative people."
Barbara Fink of Sterling is Ursala CarterÕs assistant in the play. This is her first role in a community play. "IÕve always wanted to be in community theater and help entertain people," she said. "I enjoy making people laugh and have fun."
A stay-at-home mom with two children, 2 and 5 years old, she takes pleasure in exploring emotions and dressing in costume. Her family is supportive and excited that she finally has this opportunity.
Courtney Armstrong of Sterling is Margaret Chrichton, an actress on the Dragon Star Galaxy show. She admires the character, because she doesnÕt allow anyone to bully her. "She doesnÕt let the diva push her around," said Armstrong, who works in retail and was BleutgeÕs high school drama student.
ArmstrongÕs parents have been involved with the Sterling Playmakers, mostly doing "behind the scenes stuff." She tried out for a part years ago and really enjoyed it. "I have a natural instinct for it," she said. "IÕve always had a passion for it."
THE DIVAÕS NAME is Anne Huxley or the Empress Jewel Silverberg. Beth Robertson of Gainesville plays the part. "IÕm the Empress of the galaxy," she said. The best part about being the character is "sheÕs really wicked and you love to hate her."
By day, Robertson is vice president of communications for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions in Alexandria. She is looking forward to having her co-workers come to the play. "They are anxious to see me in a different role," she said.
Robertson met her husband, Kevin Robertson, during Sterling PlaymakersÕ "Robin Hood." HeÕs directing the groupÕs next play, "CharlotteÕs Web," to be held the second two weekends in November, at Sterling Middle School.
"We do theater together," she said.
She said she loves the social aspect of acting and the opportunity to be someone else, such as an animal or an 80-year-old woman.
Bleutge remembered when Beth Robertson was director of the Sterling Community Center. Bleutge met with Robertson to gain support for a new theater group. "I was all set to present her with all these arguments as to why we should do this. But then Beth said, ÔKathy, you are preaching to the choir. IÕm a theater major.Õ"
Bleutge received the go-ahead and she and Robertson founded the Sterling Playmakers. This is the groupÕs seventh season.