For a small town newspaper like The Alpine Advocate, a new play at the local community college is big news. Editor and publisher Emma Lord is duty-bound to attend opening night, but expects the amateur enterprise will serve only as a cure for insomnia. The play is dubbed "a black comedy", but the only laughs Emma gets are from the bad acting and the wretched script. And while the turgid production makes Wagner's Ring cycle seem like a vignette, the real drama begins just before the final curtain. Hans Berenger, dean of students, wasn't well known or well liked around Alpine, but the audience found his death scene genuinely convincing--until they realized he wasn't acting. No one can say how or when the blanks in the prop gun were replaced with the real bullets that killed Berenger, but the list of suspects reads like a playbill of the cast and crew. They all had opportunity, access, and their own axes to grind with the thespically challenged dean. Seeking the assistance of Vida Runkel, the Advocate's redoubtable House and Home editor, Emma Lord vows to unravel a mystery that spirals out into unexpected places. As Emma sets the stage for the most likely suspect, she finds herself in a two-character scene whose next cue could make the resolute editor take a final--and permanent--bow.