Faye Dunawaywith and Warren Batty, the leaders of an infamous Hollywood cult, will die at the Oscars. Was it murder? Every star in Hollywood has a motive. But who had the opportunity? Figuring that out — in between cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dessert — will be your pleasurable assignment when you attend Mayhem at the Oscars, a benefit for this year’s High School Scholarship Fund awards from the New Paltz United Teachers (NPUT) on Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m., at the New Paltz Jewish Congregation Community Center.
An enthusiastic crew of faculty and staff volunteers puts together a dinner-theater benefit event like this each year, says Lenape Elementary School third-grade teacher Liz Burdick. “We’ve done seven of them before: a Brady Bunch parody, Downturn Abbey…This year we knew we wanted to do a murder mystery most.” It had been a while, and the previous times the group had performed a murder mystery, they had used a canned script. This time around, Burdick wanted to write her own, and to make it funny. She also wanted to make it about Scientology, the notoriously mercenary “religion” invented by the late science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, which is inexplicably popular among Hollywood celebrities. “I find Scientology hilarious,” she says.
Here’s the premise of Burdick’s script: “Every Hollywood star is a member of the infamous Hollywood cult the Church of Scientometry. Faye and Warren are the founders and leaders of the cult. They lure young, starving actors into the cult with promises of fame. When you enter the cult, you go through in-depth psychoanalysis where you are forced to divulge every dirty little secret. You also sign a lifetime (and beyond) contract. As part of the contract, you can’t talk about Scientometry and you have to give them most of your income. In exchange, they will groom you for fame. But make no mistake, they own you. They tell you what movies you can make, what to wear, what you post on social media and what magazines you appear in. If you talk about the cult or disobey orders, you are punished. They will share your life secrets with the press. They will destroy you on social media. Oh, and if you’re obedient: eternal life…through the magic of CGI.”
Before Dunawaywith (played by Burdick herself) and Batty (Ron Simon) collapse onstage in the midst of the Oscar broadcast (as their namesakes appeared poised to do just before announcing the wrong Best Picture winner in 2017), attendees will be introduced to a plethora of potential suspects: hosts, presenters, nominees, paparazzi and other assorted jet-setters and hangers-on. All are played by school district teachers and staff, their characters developed around Burdick’s initial challenge to volunteers: “Tell me what star you look like or would like to play.”
Among the Oscar nominees (all for very silly movie projects, some seen in fake film clips prepared by Burdick) are Justin Tinkerlake (Brandon Rios), Daniel Fadcliffe (Sean Marrinan), Fakey Mercury (Shawn Doyle), Jennifer Lawless (Brandi Keyser), Melissa McHarpy (Linda Sinforoso), Reese Witherfork (Sarah Sebald), Tina Frayed (Christiane Dates), Lady Goo Goo (Kacie Fisher), Bradley Cooper Melloncamp (Jim Longbotham), and the Golden Girls (Jane Beck, Jackie Wild, Rene Robbins). Kathie Lee Stifford (Trina Naclerio) is the host; presenters include Paris Marriott (Meredith Oppenheimer), Kim Kardotdashian (Krista Pachomski), Meghan Sparkle (Erin Bulson) and Prince Hairy (Ginger King). Also in the cast are Jill Christensen, Laura Wild, Ann Macur, Grant Kance, Bill Defino, Lesley Sawhill, Candice Cramer and Joanna Nadoolman. Burdick directs, with Jane Beck and Meri Lederer as her co-producers.
During the cocktail hour, the actors are being asked to mingle among the guests and improvise in character. “Be heard by as many people as possible!” Burdick instructs her cast at a rehearsal. Some will wander through the crowd handing out brochures containing clues — but not everyone will get the same clues, so attendees are encouraged to consult and work on their theories together. Before the end, they will be asked to submit ballots with their guesses as to whodunit. “The first three to give the ballot with the correct answer will be the winners,” Burdick explains. Prizes will include gift certificates for dinner at Rocco’s and Hokkaido and four tickets to New Paltz Cinemas. There will also be a silent auction.
Mayhem at the Oscars gets underway at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 9 at the New Paltz Jewish Congregation Community Center, located at 30 North Chestnut Street. Admission costs $40 per person, which includes hors d’oeuvres and desserts; there will also be a cash bar for wine and beer. Tickets can be ordered online at www.oscarmayhem.eventbrite.com, and will be available at the door if the event doesn’t sell out in advance.