Politics, intrigue, murder. These aren't the words often associated with the North Pole, but that's exactly what audiences can expect from Bluegrass Mystery Theatre's latest production, Death at the North Pole.
There also will be jokes — lots of jokes — and a three-course meal.
Dana Edison, founder and the one-woman tour de force behind the group, tapped Leslie Kemp to write an original comedy specifically for Bluegrass Mystery Theatre.
The play features two potential Santas: one who is ready to retire and move to the beach, and a second young, incoming Santa.
Both are influenced by power-hungry, conniving wives; the outgoing Mrs. Claus doesn't want to give up her status and power, and the incoming Mary Kringle is a social climber from the "wrong side of the pole."
Throw in a devoted female elf who longs to be Santa herself and a sudden murder, and you have a jolly old murder mystery.
Like most murder-mystery plays, the evening's performance is divided into three acts, with courses of the meal being served at intervals in the action. Audience members vote on who they think the murderer is, and in the end, the guests who guessed correctly are entered to win a prize.
The troupe regularly performs at numerous venues. Death at the North Pole has been performed at Boone Tavern in Berea and Equus Run Vineyards in Midway. This weekend, shows will be on the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train in Bardstown and Parlay Social pub in Lexington.
In January, the group will begin to perform a different show on the new Lexington Dinner Train.
Edison says that the rotating venues are part of the fun and that actors often excel at improvising fun moments tailored to each crowd.
"Even though we do the same script and the same show, when you go to a different venue, it makes it totally new," Edison says. "People laugh at different things, they react in different ways. You never know what you're going to get."
When Edison founded Bluegrass Mystery Theatre in 2008, she had modest aspirations.
"The plan was to do a weekend, a Friday and Saturday every few months," Edison says. "I didn't see doing a lot of these. I didn't know if the interest would be there, if people would really want to come."
Now in its fifth year of programming, Bluegrass Mystery Theatre performs five to eight shows a month, and Edison routinely taps three writers — Kemp, who worked closely with Chicago's famed Second City; Paula Hilton of Florida; and Lexington writer Donna Ison to write original murder mysteries.
Edison cites audience participation as an integral part of the experience.
"Some of the actors I use are so good at improvising with the audiences," Edison says. "These are scripted shows, but there are always moments where they throw out a line or two in reaction to the audience."
"Santa does a special little dance, and he may or may not pull people from the audience out," Edison says of one such moment in Death at the North Pole.
After all, murder mysteries are an entirely different kind of theater, completely focused on fun and friend-making. There is no fourth wall in this theater and no pretense of seriousness — the audience is in, among and sometimes part of the action.
IF YOU GO
'Death at the North Pole'
What: Bluegrass Mystery Theatre's production of Leslie Kemp's holiday play.
Learn more: Bluegrassmysterytheatre.com
■ 5 p.m. Dec. 28. My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, Bardstown. $109.95 adults, $69.95 kids (includes four-course meal, show and 21/2-hour train ride); available at Kydinnertrain.com. 1-866-801-3463.
■ 6 p.m. Dec. 29. Parlay Social, 257 W. Short St. $29.95 (includes three-course meal and show); available at (859)244-1932.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.