‘Killer’ play brings success to Reedley Opera House

Reedley locals create an original production that expresses the heart, soul and humor of small towns and their community theaters

The cast of “Murder at the Opera House,” an original production put on by Reedley’s River City Theatre Company, pose on stage for promotional photos. (Courtesy of River City Theatre Company)
The cast of “Murder at the Opera House,” an original production put on by Reedley’s River City Theatre Company, pose on stage for promotional photos. (Courtesy of River City Theatre Company)
Serena Bettis
Published October 25, 2023  • 
10:30 am

REEDLEY – The latest production from Reedley’s River City Theatre Company (RCTC), “Murder at the Opera House,” has more to it than meets the eye — but not in the way one might expect.

RCTC saw great success with the play; after an initial run of six shows throughout September and early October, RCTC decided to bring it back for one more matinee show Oct. 29. The show’s director and lead actor, Jacob Alvarado, said he thought there were multiple elements on the show that made it so popular, and he hopes RCTC can keep bringing great theater to the area. 

“I know people have really liked it; they think it’s something interesting,” Alvarado said. “They really like that we brought back the dinner show for this production … (and) I think they like that it’s just something different.”

Beyond a typical murder mystery saga with twists and turns, “Murder at the Opera House” brings to audiences a comedy laced with a strong sense of community, the show’s playwright DJ Reimer said. An original production, it was the play itself, along with the heart behind it, that allowed the show to be a hit for the Reedley Opera House. 

Born and raised in Reedley, Reimer was asked to write the play earlier this year, after the original volunteer dropped out. After performing at the Opera House throughout his youth, Reimer himself had only recently become involved with RCTC again, and was able to use work he created during his time at Reedley High School — under the mentorship of RCTC founder Mark Norwood — as the basis for the play.

Reimer said he came back to RCTC to perform in last year’s Christmas show, at a time when he was personally struggling with finding his purpose and drive in life. He said he had forgotten about how meaningful the Reedley Opera House is and how it’s “a place for people to come together and enjoy themselves.” 

When the characters begin to perform their own show, the lights go dark, and the lead actor collapses. Reimer said that just like the dedicated community theater volunteers he knows, the characters decide that the show must go on, but as they move through it, they realize that there may have been ulterior motives behind the lead’s collapse, and the murder mystery aspect kicks in. 

The contrast between his own depression and the joy he felt being involved with RCTC is what compelled him to write the play and focus it on what’s going on in small towns around the country, he said. 

“The heart of the show is that it’s still about a small town community theater that’s very similar to Reedley’s, and a lot of the content, a lot of the humor, a lot of the characters are in a sense a reflection of contemporary small town communities,” Reimer said. 

Reimer described the show as “a play within a play” about a small town theater company that is down on its luck and is performing a big cabaret show to raise money. At the start of the show, the characters announce that due to budget cuts, the lights go off every time the town’s loud, blaring freight train goes by — a nuisance that Reedley locals are more than familiar with, Reimer said. 

The cast of “Murder at the Opera House,” an original production put on by Reedley’s River City Theatre Company, pose for promotional photos on their set. (Courtesy of River City Theatre Company)

“They (the characters) start to turn on each other and have to strike a balance between entertaining the audience and saving their own skin,” Reimer said. “The hilarity that ensures trying to thread that needle is the essence of the show.”

Reimer said his hope for the show was that people would see themselves in it and see how organizations like the Reedley Opera House can both bring people out from their own personal struggles and bring people together.

“It’s a testament to what can happen when communities come together,” Reimer said. “That made it really rewarding that it very much was a personal story as well as a funny mystery that I got to write.” 

As for the success of the show, Alvarado said he felt that by bringing the audience an original production, they had the chance to surprise them and provide a unique experience. He said that putting on an original show also allowed the cast and crew more creative leeway.

“I think it’s fun to work on an original show because you have full creative input,” Alvarado said. “If something doesn’t work, you can change it, or if you want to try something different, you can do that.”

RCTC General Manager Peter Allwine added that for this production specifically, the Reedley Opera House offered the option of dinner and a show to theatergoers, something they have not done for quite some time. The popularity of that format, alongside the community-driven message, lent to the show’s success for all involved. 

Information about upcoming shows, tickets and getting involved in the Opera House is available on the RCTC website at rctcreedley.com.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter