By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: Pie auction serves to dish up a healthy taste of community

Submitted photo##Pie baker Laura Cattrall has taught at Patton Middle School for 11 years and, with her husband, Brian, finds ways to support community projects.
Submitted photo##Pie baker Laura Cattrall has taught at Patton Middle School for 11 years and, with her husband, Brian, finds ways to support community projects.

Pi Day is coming up March 14. But however you plan to observe it, I think I have you beat, thanks to my involvement in a recent pie night.

A key lime came our way courtesy of the drama program at Patton Middle School. This may seem like a strange thing to say, but it provided us with a wonderful slice of community we were honored to share.

As a journalist, I of course go looking for stories, some of which just happen to involve food. Well, that’s the joke anyway.

Years ago in Hood River, I twice got to serve as a judge in a pie-baking contest benefiting nonprofits.

And yes, that meant juggling notetaking and photo duties. It was a tough assignment.

But Friday night, my wife, Lorre, and I were just part of the audience at Patton Middle School.

We were there for the play, “Murder at the Pie Auction,” by Michael Druce. The production was directed by eighth-grader Dylan Dawson, with drama adviser Emily Wilcox serving as his assistant.

We were intrigued by the description in the paper of audience participation, and the chance to bid on pies — that and the fact we had both performed in mysteries back in junior high, as it was then called. We were happy to see a large crowd turn out, and we witnessed a funny, well-acted whodunit, set during a pie contest and auction in the fictional town of Mynute, Alaska.

We passed on the silent auction preceding the curtain, so had no idea pie would be coming our way at the end of the evening.

In a very clever twist, the Patton kids decided to ask audience members to guess who murdered the celebrity pie judge.

Was it one of the other contestants? A visiting actor? The local newspaper editor? One of the pie contest organizers? “Everyone has a motive,” they assured us.

The program featured a character list with boxes to check. Once the clues had all been laid out, the audience was asked to cast ballots during a brief intermission.

I will not give away the ending, but I did a quick bit of reasoning and chose a character who, in keeping with murder-mystery tropes, got just a little less stage time and plot attention than some of the others. And I got lucky.

My ballot was drawn from among those who had guessed correctly. So as a sweet and suitably tangy surprise, I won a pie.

I was, well, humbled. I made a thank you and interview call to Patton science teacher Laura Cattrall, who baked the pies live-auctioned on stage as well as those provided for audience take-home. The silent auction pies were a mix of commercial and homemade, donated by cast members’ parents.

“I was really excited Emily asked me to get involved,” said Cattrall, who also helped out at rehearsals. She has a side business baking pies and other items.

She and her husband, chef Brian Potts-Cattrall, baked 50 pies at Thanksgiving for friends. His company, Philanthropy Foods, provides in-home chef services, family meals, education and support for groups addressing food insecurity.

Over the years, I have seen my share of school productions (though mostly in high schools) and this one stands out for the energy of the actors and the stage presence shown at their level. It might have suffered in places from the age-old (and any age) live theater issue of vocal volume, but the script was funny and the kids dished it up well.

As happens, there were line-lapses. And I detected at least one astute ad-lib that one actor used to cue another back on track. I’ve been in a number of shows myself, so I’m no stranger to poor projection and forgotten lines.

Cast members, all part of Junior Thespian Troup No. 89053, were Jeremiah Alfaro, Zane Baasch, Toby Benlap, Elsa Davies, Dominick Gonzalez, Shelby Huffman, Alex Moorhead, Ray Roberts, Gabriel Sandoval, Lily Swart, and Magdalena Scheese.

The show also served as a launching point for Patton’s May production, “Frozen.” The pie auction and ticket proceeds totaled $1,000, according to Wilcox, who said the play was chosen by the students because it lent itself to fund-raising and “Frozen” is “extremely expensive.”

“The students and I were looking to do a play they could direct themselves,” Wilcox said. “I like to empower the kids to take charge.”

Due to a death in the family, she missed a good piece of the rehearsal time. “They did a great job, especially since for two weeks I wasn’t here and they practiced on their own,” she said.

“The auction itself is written into the show with two actor plants, but (Druce) definitely wrote it for that,” she said. “The silent auction was us and voting thing was us.”

“The kids had a blast. And it’s my goal after 16 years, seeing community members in the audience. It just makes me happy.”

She noted, “What I want for the program is kids running things themselves.” But she acknowledged it will be a little different for “Frozen,” due to the large cast and technical factors, including rented digital set pieces and elaborate costumes.

The play is slated to open Mother’s Day weekend. Rehearsals started Thursday.

The cast includes elementary kids and Wilcox’s daughter, Piper, 4. “Our kids in it are really dedicated,” she said.

“Frozen” will be performed six times. There are degrees of audience participation planned, with “Frozen” doll and dress-up nights.

The appeal of live theater is in the performances, and there is something truly special about witnessing young people present themselves in story and song. The fun and educational thing about a show such as “Murder at the Pie Auction” is it gives students the chance to not only express themselves but also interact with the community.

Another audience participation opportunity will be provided this weekend with the Friday night opening of “Night of January 16th,” a murder mystery by Ayn Rand, at McMinnville High School. Audience members are called on to serve as jurors and determine the outcome.

Strong drama programs exist at local middle school and high schools, and one night of any of these productions certainly aces anything streaming on HulappleflixDisfinityprime.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.



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