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CSU dinner theater provides laughs, mystery

There was pasta, Italian music, hints of Mafia connections, passionate professions of love, –– and then it was revealed that somebody had been “whacked” Friday at Clayton State University.

The university’s Harry S. Downs Center for Continuing Education hosted its fifth mystery theater dinner event of the year last week, with an Italian theme, entitled, “Little Italy Murder Mystery: Pasta, Passion and Pistols.” Approximately 30 local residents dined on tortellini and penne pasta, before getting into the mystery of who killed Pepi Roni, a restaurant owner in the Little Italy section of New York City.

Audience members had eight characters to examine as possible murderers. Some of the characters were played by audience members, with some of them giving over-the-top performances that left other audience members laughing hysterically throughout the evening.

“It was fun,” said Morrow resident, Jean Peacock, who observed the characters as they accused each other of back-stabbing and scandalous behavior. “I liked the number of characters, and the overlapping of the reasons they had in common for, perhaps, being the murderer.”

Sharon Foote, the lead film instructor with the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, said Clayton State’s continuing education department has been doing dinner theater performances for more than a year. Foote is also a continuing education instructor at the university, where she teaches public speaking classes, and oversees the dinner theaters for the school.

“We do it [the dinner theaters] for the community,” Foote said. “It’s some enjoyment and entertainment for the community, so that they don’t have to go into Atlanta [for similar types of entertainment].”

Foote brings two students from the theatre to play roles in each Clayton State dinner theater. Last week, acting students, Richard Robertson, Jr., and Kaylah Burk, played priest “Father Alfredo,” and gypsy fortune teller “Claire Voyant,” respectively. Robertson and Burk said this was the first time they had acted in a dinner theater performance.

“As small as this was, this and the classes [at the Alliance Theatre] have given me a respect [for acting],” said Robertson, who explained that he learned how to speak with an Italian accent from a friend and YouTube. “It’s truly an art, and a craft, and some people have to work at it. It’s not easy. You have to work at it.”

Burk added: “She [Foote] mentioned [in class at the Alliance Theatre] that Clayton State does mystery dinners, and she does advise one or two of her students to participate. I didn’t get to do one of the first ones she suggested, because my friend beat me to raising the hand [to volunteer], but one of the other students had an amazing time, and I told Mrs. Sharon I was interested in doing one, if she had room for me.”

Many characters had reasons to kill Pepi Roni, and as the evening rolled on, secrets — which, at times, seemed to come straight out of a soap opera — were slowly revealed. Pepi died after he was shot in his restaurant late one night in 2009.

Pepi’s original last name was Scarfazi, but he had it changed to Roni when he moved to America, from his native Italy. His wife, Rosa Roni, was originally engaged to be married to Pepi’s identical brother, Rocco Scarfazi. But, Pepi stole her away on the day she was to marry Rocco. Rosa was already secretly pregnant with Rocco’s son, Marco Roni, at the time, but she passed the child off as Pepi’s son.

Pepi and Rosa had a rebellious and violent-natured daughter, Angel Roni, who Pepi wanted to send off to live in a convent in Brazil. He also was having an affair with fortune teller Claire Voyant, who counted Rosa as one of her clients. And that’s not all. Pepi also got Rocco’s new fiancé, Tara Misu, pregnant and she was planning to pass the unborn child off as Rocco’s offspring.

Members of the audience, who were not playing characters, were asked to take notes throughout the night, review clues and even interrogate characters as they tried to figure out who killed Pepi.

“It’s an escape,” said Foote, when asked why she felt people enjoy dinner theaters. “Of course, they like the food, but I think people can relax. They can laugh. They can try to figure something out that’s outside of their everyday lives, and I think that’s fun for them.”

In the end, it turned out to be Rocco’s French vineyard manager, Bo Jalais, who killed Pepi. But, he professed it was all by accident. “Bo” claimed he was working with Rocco’s enemies to start his own business, and that he was really bent on killing Rocco to eliminate competition. He added, however, that he had mistaken Pepi for his brother.

“It was interesting,” said Rex resident, Branan Garside, who played Bo. “It was the first time I did something like this, so it was a new experience.”

Foote said Clayton State’s continuing education department will offer another dinner theater program, entitled “Honky Tonk Murder Mystery” on Oct. 21, from 6:30 p.m., to 9 p.m., at the continuing education building on the university’s main campus in Morrow. The cost to sign up for the event is $39, and people can sign up online, at http://conted.clayton.edu/, or by calling (678) 466-5050.