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Whodunit?

Locals host murder mystery for fellow sleuths.

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The cast of present suspects include, front row, Sandy Freund of Vienna, Joan Mitchum of Springfield, Elizabeth Waller of Oakton and Roben Closs of Springfield; back row, Joe Closs of Springfield, Ted Kavich of Alexandria, John Lawson of Gloucester, Va., Beth Lee of Fairfax Station and Bruce Barishman or Kingstowne.

Howitzer-award winning journalist Stella R. Skoop was found murdered on the grounds of Gooseneck Lake Lodge. And that was not the first time.

Skoop is one of the characters — albeit a dead one — in "Murder at Gooseneck Lake," the fifth installment of an interactive murder mystery series written and produced by Michael "Ted" Kavitch of Alexandria. Patrick Henry Library in Vienna hosts the "whodunit" on Saturday, March 29 at 7 p.m., inviting all area amateur sleuths to test their detecting skills.

"I love the mystery genre," said Kavich. "My characters are ‘types,’ but we flesh out the character. We poke fun, we play with it. It’s all tongue-in-cheek. We’re just having fun."

The theme of the "play" is reminiscent of a Restoration comedy ... it’s full of broad humor, stereotyped characters and playful names. Suspects abound, 10 of them, played by a core group of volunteers, most of whom are Fairfax County Library staff. That’s no coincidence; Kavich is a county library manager in his parallel universe. On his own time, Kavich writes the mysteries and packages the complete production for purchase.

AT A RECENT REHEARSAL at Patrick Henry Library, cast members assumed the persona of their characters, describing themselves as the world around them sees them. Fairfax County Public Library branch coordinator Elizabeth Waller as her alter-ego Mlle. Reticule Duvet, detailed her expertise as an amateur detective in a winsome French accent, while Bruce Barishman’s Walter E. Gogh revealed his distracted and self-absorbed demeanor.

Gooseneck Lake, located in the heart of Maine, is renowned for its outdoor activities — hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing and hunting. The crystal-clear lake and looming green forests appeal to artists, writers and nature-lovers.

Why was Stella R. Skoop killed? Will the suspects incriminate themselves? And just what does one have to do to win a "Howitzer?"

THE 42 GUESTS are broken down into six teams of seven. During this interactive event, guests mingle with other participants and the suspects to gather clues about the murder, in a conversational style characteristic of an ordinary social setting — except that one of the guests is murdered.

Suspects gather in both the great room of the lodge and the library, where guests, who are charged by Mlle. Duvet to help solve the murder, question the suspects. Mlle. Duvet graciously distributes "clues."

Is the murderer the bad-boy Senator Lyon, a scandalous politician who may have something to hide?

Or is it the brooding poet Beau Hemion who harbors dark secrets? Is the Norman Rockwell-like painter Aulden Vintidge really a warm and fatherly kind of man? Neva R. Kemp-Lyon, the glamorous wife of the senator, has her own political ambitions; is there something — or someone — in her background that the Skoop may have known about?

Usual suspect Roben Closs, playing slightly-daffy ice cream queen, Geri N. Benz, in the Patrick Henry production, suggested the idea of interactive murder mysteries to Kavich in 2001. The first production was based on a commercial story line, but Kavich was so intrigued, he set out to write his own stories.

Since that time,18 Kavich mystery nights have taken place throughout the county. "Murder at Gooseneck Lake" premiered last November at the George Mason Library, and this murder mystery is Patrick Henry’s first foray into free, public interactive murder mystery productions. As with any tony social gathering, food will be served, courtesy of Friends of Patrick Henry Library.

"We all volunteer our own time, after hours, to create these murder mysteries, doing it for love of mysteries and for entertaining," said Kavich. "We have a lot of fun doing this, and so do our guests. We have a ball."