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Milwaukee Native's Murder Mystery Play Takes Flight On US Tour

Two graduates of the University of Minnesota are nearly half way through their year-long tour of the United States. But they’re not just sightseeing — along the way, they're performing a play that one of them penned.

Oliver Bestul wrote The Birding Body. It’s a bird-themed tongue-in-cheek murder mystery. Veronica Swanson illustrated a booklet that accompanies the play and it allows for audience members to play along as the characters try to figure out who-done-it. 

Swanson says the two-person play is about a detective looking into the murder of a woman. While he’s doing that, he finds there may be a second murder in town.

“The whole play is based around him kind of finding clues and figuring out who murdered the second woman,” she says.

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Credit Courtesy of Oliver Bestul
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The set in Hailey, Idaho.

Bestul says this is a light-hearted play, which he compares to the TV show Columbo.

“There's a lot of a lot of jokes, a lot of humor involved, especially with Veronica's character. She comes back as sort of like a sassy, deceased [woman]. So that's pretty fun,” he says.

Swanson says she’s obsessed with birds, which helps explain the play's bird theme. For example, each character’s last name in the play is the name of a bird species.

Bestul says, “We picked our birds that we wanted, and those are picked purposefully, like whether they're predators or not, and then we let that flavor sort of decide the fates of those characters.”

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Credit Courtesy of Oliver Bestul
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While on tour, Swanson and Bestul stopped by Death Valley National Park, Cali.

With so many performances, Swanson says the play will change over time.

“The first showing is not going to be the same at all from the last showing this will probably grow into our characters more and to decide to take it a different way, you know, even if it's just to not get bored of it because performing it this many times for a whole year. It's going to be a lot. So I guess I'm excited to see it kind of grow,” she says.

Their cross-country tour will end with a performance at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theatre on Sept. 20, the city where Bestul was born and raised.

“I'm anxious to come back to Milwaukee. That'll be our 50th stop and that's when we'll really have it down. I think that'll be us at our best,” he says.

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Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018. She joined WUWM as a volunteer at Lake Effect in 2016, while she was a practicing criminal defense attorney.
Lauren Sigfusson
Lauren became WUWM's digital producer in July 2018.