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Ensemble Stage Kicks-Off Its Summer Series with Deadly Murder This Friday in Banner Elk


By Savannah R. Watts

Banner Elk’s Professional Theatre reopens their summer series this Friday, June 9 with the suspense thriller Deadly Murder by David Foley. Starring professional actors Robyne Parrish, Lew Whitener, and Danny Mayhak, Deadly Murder will run from Friday, June 9 to Saturday, June 16. The opening night only had nine seats still available as of Monday.

Deadly Murder is a suspense thriller that tell the story of a successful, young jewelry designer that has a fondness for attractive young men. She meets a handsome young waiter at a society gala and bring him back to her apartment. Much to her distress, she learns that this stranger knows many of her darkest secrets from her childhood. But, how? And, why does he refuse to leave? Will she die trying to keep her secrets safe?

Deadly Murder will keep audiences on the edge of their seats throughout the whole play. Gary Smith, Artistic Director of Ensemble Stage, says, “This play has a great plot, lots of twists and turns, and has shocking moments that the audience won’t be expecting.” He anticipates the audience will be surprised by many of the scenes and actions during the play. “Deadly Murder has many moments where the audience will say, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t see that coming,’ or ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea that’s where they were coming from.’” He says that’s the standard for suspense thrillers over the years, but Deadly Murder absolutely lives up to all those criteria.

After seeing almost 2,000 actors, Gary chose Robyne, Lew, and Dan to perform in this show. He says, “It’s a great location for actors, we get a lot of talent from other states.” For Deadly Murder it’s no different: Robyne and Dan are from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while Lew is from West Virginia. Robyne previously performed with Ensemble Stage a few years ago in the suspense thriller Fit to Kill, but for Dan and Lew this will be their first time performing in the small intimate theater in Banner Elk.

Robyne says, “This show has a variety of action. It’s packed with the unexpected.” Both Dan and Lew agree, saying that this play closely resembles something Alfred Hitchcock-ian. “It’s very modern-day Hitchcock—you never know what’s going on, even if you think you do,” says Lew. Gary states that Deadly Murder is a very “what’s next” types of play that will keep the audience guessing about what is going to happen, and constantly prove them wrong about their hypotheses.

In getting ready for Deadly Murder, the actors have to fully develop their character which sometimes sticks with them beyond the stage. Dan says, “Sometimes I find myself walking around at home in the same posture I try to use for my character on stage.” Gary says the character Robyne is playing in Deadly Murder is very different from the last character she performed with Ensemble. “She’s a great chameleon when it comes to acting and taking on different characters.”

Dan, Lew, and Robyne all live together in Beech Mountain for the four weeks that encompass the rehearsals and shows. Through living together, the creation of their characters has continued to develop outside of rehearsals. Lew says, “We often run lines together while we’re at home. We’re constantly learning from each other, talking, and finding things out about the play.” He laughs and says, “And, we all still like each other.”

Both the actors and Gary are excited about the return of the summer series and Deadly Murder’s opening night. “It’s the first time we’ve done the suspense thriller in the first slot,” says Gary. And while a large part of that decision was made based on actor availability, it’s a fun change in pace of Ensemble Stage’s summer lineup.

After two weeks of rehearsing, Robyne is eager to be on the set and performing for live audiences. Lew says, “I’m excited to see how the audience will respond. There’s a lot of emotion in the play, so seeing their reactions is always exciting.” Dan agrees saying, “It’s always interesting to see if the audience will respond in the way we have anticipated or if they will react completely different.”

“The audience is the final cast member,” states Lew, and Robyne and Dan agree saying that audience investment fuels their excitement and the performance. They hope to have some unexpected laughs because some parts of the play lend levity in uncomfortable situations. “It’s a small theater with a lot of heart,” Lew says. With only 99 seats in the whole theater, Gary invites the audience to feel like they’re “peeping through a keyhole” into the lives of the characters in the show.

Deadly Murder premieres this Friday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Old Historic Banner Elk School. The actors and Ensemble Stage Company have been working since May 21 to get everything perfected for opening night. Robyne says, “I think people will really like it. It’s going to set the standard for the rest of the summer.” Deadly Murder aims to kick-off Ensemble Stage’s summer series with a show filled with action, emotion, and shocking moments that leaves the audience guessing and wanting answers.

For more information, visit Ensemble Stage’s Facebook page or their website at http://www.ensemblestage.com/index.html. You can purchase tickets online or through the box office at the Old Historic Banner Elk School located at 185 Azalea Cir. SE, Banner Elk, NC. You can also contact them via email at info@ensemblestage.com or call (828) 414-1844.


Dan Mayhak


Lew Whitener


Robyne Parrish