Shauna Kiefiuk has people clamoring to be corpses.
The director of "The Unexpected Guest," an Agatha Christie murder mystery that opens Friday at Albany Civic Theater, initially didn't want to cast the role of the deceased. She didn't think anyone would want to spend weeks coming to rehearsals just to play dead.
Maybe it was the thrill of being onstage without having to memorize a part. Maybe some people have a morbid sense of humor.
Whatever it was, Kiefiuk has had no trouble finding people to be the body of Richard Warwick, whose murder kicks off the plot of "Guest." Ten nights: Ten cameos.
"They were very interested," she said.
That same fascination with murder and what might motivate it — and the clues to solving the puzzle — are what drew Kiefiuk to direct "Guest" in the first place.
The show actually had been submitted by another director, and Kiefiuk read the script at the request of ACT's play-reading committee.
"Then I said, 'oh my gosh, I love it.' I was frustrated I didn't find this script," she said.
Kiefiuk got her wish. The other director went with a different show.
She loves the guessing game a great murder mystery sets up. In this story, multiple characters have the motive, method and opportunity to commit the crime.
"You can literally put everyone in that spot. 'They did it,'" Kiefiuk said. "And 10 pages later, it's, 'No, it's somebody else.' And then, 'No, I'm wrong again.'"
Sidra Metzger, the stage manager, is right there with her. Most people go through life without paying much attention to the little details, she said, but Agatha Christie's plot forces you to check your assumptions at the door.
"A murder mystery makes you go, 'Oh. Oh!'" she said. "Because there are little clues all the way through."
Kiefiuk's show begins when Michael Starkwedder (Jeff McMahon), the titular unexpected guest, gets lost in the fog. He stops for help at the first house he sees — and there discovers the dead body of Richard Warwick and Warwick's wife, Laura (Alyssa Joy), standing over him holding a gun.
Did she or didn't she? Could another family member be to blame? Another guest? Another outsider?
"My character knows more than she's saying," Joy said. But don't let that fool you: "Everyone's kind of got an agenda."
Joy, of Albany, has been acting since age 5 but said she's never been able to play a love interest until now. She loves Laura's character because of the variety of emotions the story has her convey: fear, anger, romance. "It's a very fun challenge for me."
The cast also includes Nicodemus Flotten as Jan Warwick, Richard's younger brother. He, too, is a suspect.
"Jan's very kind, very sweet. However, there's a little something that makes him different," said Flotten, who's taking his first turn on stage with Kiefiuk's show. "He gets very excited and curious about things. Like Richard's guns. And murder."
Though set in Norfolk, England, the script doesn't specify when the action takes place.
Kiefiuk's costumer, Barb Osterholm, suggested the 1950s, and Kiefiuk liked the vintage feel. But really, she and Metzger agreed, stories of love, death and family secrets are timeless.
Added Kayla Thomason, the assistant director: "The story isn't always what it seems."