After nearly a year-long hiatus, Wake Forest’s premier sketch comedy troupe, the Lilting Banshees, returned to the stage on April Fool’s Day, bringing the sound of laughter to a sullen and somber campus. Forced to perform within COVID-19 safety restrictions, the Banshees abandoned their former home of Brendle Recital Hall for the makeshift amphitheater on Manchester Plaza.
“Student Union was asked to find a Wake Forest group to perform at their yearly Murder Mystery dinner and reached out to us,” said senior Alexi Vlahoyiannis, director of the Banshees. “Because the capacity of the Lower Quad stage is limited to 50 people, we split that into 40 audience members and 10 performers.”
Almost 100 students were present for the Murder Mystery performance, with most standing around the yellow-roped boundary and with the rest sitting around the fireplaces eating brown-bagged dinner, provided by Student Union.
I want to make it known that I am not slandering the food I received as I understand and appreciate all the organization it took to provide as much free food as they did. But, I will say that as a repeat quarantine prisoner, it reminded me all too much like the Best Western ‘meals’ — a Smörgåsbord of freezing cold and undeterminable-by-sight dishes in an excess of flimsy takeout containers. My personal favorite was the deconstructed charcuterie board (cheese cubes, deli meat and a single olive) stuffed into a plastic cup. Unlike the Best Western, the cold food was not anyone’s fault, as it was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit in addition to the even colder gusts of wind berating everyone present. Luckily, the cold weather did not stop any of the show’s high-octane energy.
“We worked really hard and we all love what we do,” said freshman Banshee Skyler Edwards. “Hopefully, you could see that when we were performing, even if it was freezing cold.”
The premise of the show was a classic “whodunnit” scenario. Nine of the Banshees, a mix of newcomers and veterans, were being questioned about their involvement in the campus secret tunnel’s latest victim, student Steve Vaneenanam. Sophomore Arsene Ngongang’s well-played detective character — think Benoit Blanc from “Knives Out” if he decided to pregame with a bunch of Pikes — was tasked with sifting through the alibis of an increasingly wacky, yet all too familiar, lineup.
The suspects included an astrology fanatic (Edwards), a 50-year-old Sigma Chi bouncer (senior Joey Smukler), campus’s resident puppeteer (freshman Naomi Jecker), a 14th-century vampire (freshman Al Battisti), an overconfident and underperforming Sig Pi brother (freshman Owen Mcternan), your friend stuck in the Cutco Knives pyramid scheme (junior Ian Holmes), a KA pledge “encouraged” to act like a Venetian gondolier (Vlahoyiannis), a kid-octopus hybrid named KidOPus (junior Liam Shaughnessy) and a philosophy major way too specific with his “hypothetical” reenactment of the murder (freshman Nick Provosty).
Once each character was introduced to the audience, the audience had their turn to ask any burning questions they had that the detective didn’t address. Each Banshee went around the quad interacting with the groups of students huddled around the covered fireplaces while still in character. Students could ask further investigative questions, ask who they thought the killer was or what it was like being a philosophy major. Hint, his three favorite activities are thinking, thinking and thinking.
“I very much enjoyed going up to the tables and making people as uncomfortable as possible,” Mcternan said.
There certainly was no absence of witty responses by the Banshees leaving practically every group laughing and awkwardly staring at the same time. When I asked the Cutco salesman if he thought that having access to so many knives would make him suspect number one, he quickly flipped our conversation into a sales pitch, eventually convincing me to take one of the prop knives. Was I being framed? Am I now an accomplice to the crime? Is he just very bad at reading social situations and realizing he is being scammed? Either way, it was all very entertaining and enjoyable, a sentiment that many of the Banshees expressed themselves.
“It was really hard to split the troupe and only have half perform, and also difficult to write a show where only two characters were allowed on stage at once,” said Vlahoyiannis. “However, we all enjoyed the challenge and we’re very happy that Student Union gave us the opportunity.”
“I felt like the show was like if Mufasa hadn’t died in ‘The Lion King’ — perfection,” said Mcternan.
“It was a little hard on stage when you’re being absolutely ridiculous and you can’t hear the laughs over the wind and stuff, but regardless, it seemed like people enjoyed it,” said Battisti. “It was a huge bonding experience for us all and I can’t wait until we can see everyone in the audience and bool in Brendle.”
If you missed this performance, do not fret. The Banshees will be back on the Mag Quad main stage soon, performing another original comedy show on Wednesday, April 28.