Murder by poisoning, a mysterious code and a hidden spy are all in store for riders on the Minnesota Streetcar Museum when “Encrypted for Murder: A Streetcar Murder Mystery” premieres this weekend.
“It’s a unique theater experience,” said Rod Eaton, who is a senior superintendent for the museum, as well as the organization’s event coordinator. “It’s very immersive.”
The original play, which will be performed aboard a moving streetcar by a cast of Southwest High School students and recent graduates, takes the audience back in time to 1942.
It’s the peak of World War II and two sailors about to ship off to war board the streetcar for one last night on the town with their dates. However, a sinister turn of events sees the evening go awry for the young foursome.
Fortunately, a cryptologist is also on board, and the mystery just might be solved, if she can use her code-cracking skills to catch the culprit by the end of the streetcar ride.
The story was conceived by Eaton and developed by freelance director David Premack and the cast. The show is largely improvised, with the exception of a few key plot points. Characters move freely about the car, conversing with the audience.
“You need to depend on the audience to forward the story,” said recent SWHS graduate Emma Palmer, who plays cryptologist Margaret O’Hara. “It’s very interactive.”
Performing on a mobile streetcar poses unique challenges to the cast, particularly in terms of adapting to the outside noise from the moving car.
Palmer also cited the challenges of developing a character complex enough to thrive in an improvisational context and remaining period sensitive in a show where much of the dialogue is spoken in 1940s dialect.
This year’s performance is the second annual streetcar murder-mystery play.
Eaton was inspired by other rail museum across the country that have hosted similar performances and decided to pursue the idea last spring.
He contacted Premack per the recommendation of Bob Bayers, who is a streetcar operator, a member of the museum’s board of directors and the museum’s Linden Hills community liaison alongside his day job as owner of Bayers Do It Best Hardware.
Last year’s production, entitled “Murder on the Downtown Express,” was a 1920s themed show and sold out two of its four performances.
This year, Eaton wanted to capture the national tension that followed Pearl Harbor and to produce a show that took place during a time that he described as a “streetcar Renaissance.”
“It’s definitely something I haven’t seen anywhere else,” said cast member Meredith Casey, a rising senior at SWHS.
Performances will take place this Friday and Saturday, at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., and on Sunday, at 9 p.m. The show runs approximately 50 minutes. Tickets cost $15 and are available for purchase at Bayers Do It Best Hardware, the Linden Hills streetcar station and the streetcar museum website. The audience and cast will depart from the Linden Hills streetcar station.