Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Murder By Indecision—HART Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

A Muse on Murder

This comedy, murder-mystery is by Daniel O’Donnell and directed by Aaron Morrow.  It is playing at their space, 185 SE Washington St. in Hillsboro, through November 13th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-693-7815.

It is said that comedy and tragedy are just different sides of the same coin so, with that assumption, if you turn it inside out, you could get a sad comedy or a humorous drama as, in this case, a comedy- mystery.  Clue, Murder By Death, A&C Meet Frankenstein, et. al. are all examples of this.  And my favorite authors of that genre are Conan Doyle (Sherlock) and Christie (Hercule and Jane Marple).  And, although this play spoofs Dame Agatha (“Crispy”) and Miss Marple (“Miss Maple”), it also delves a couple layers deeper, fleshing out the inner life of characters created by authors.

Stephen King has broached this subject in more than one of his stories and the films, Stranger Than Fiction, Westworld, et. al. give credence to a possible eerie link between creators and their characters.  Also, if you remember the Star Trek TV episodes with Patrick Stewart, in which they playact as their favorite characters in the Hallowdeck (sp?) in literature, at the end of one of the sessions, one of the  “characters” asks Picard what will happened to them after his crew leaves, will they die?  Picard has no answer but this story broaches on that area, too.

It seems that Agatha Crispy (Patti Hansen), well on in years now, is writing yet again another mystery play, but has finally reached a type of writer’s block, in which ideas no longer are fresh.  Has her creative drive dried up?  Her agent, Ruth Less (Tanja Crouch), is pushing her for a deadline and the pressure is wearing on her.  Her latest opus includes, as usual, a myriad of characters, most with a whole bevy of motives for killing him, in this case, a nasty CEO of a company, Victor Greedly (Tyson Redifer).  He dies in a…variety of ways (you’ll just have to see it).

His snobbish wife, Sophie (Leslie Inmon), wants his fortune as does his equally egotistical daughter, Victoria (Karen Huckfeldt).  Then there is his sister, the shy, Mavis (Darlene Young), who has been his shadow all her life.  His son, William (Nicholas Granto), is a neer-do-well playboy, who has eyes for one of the maids, the naïve, Jenny (Raine Stoltenberg).  And, of course, the servants might have it in for him.  There is the ever-patient but equally maligned, “old retainer,” Niles (Steve Horton), and his faithful wife, Myrna (Dana Kelly Sweet).

His secretary, Gwen (Jean Christensen), who he may have been having an affair with, is not above suspicion, either, nor is his oily, “whipping boy,” Ken (Jordan Wilgus), who resents all the years of harsh treatment from him.  Of course, there is the recently fired employee, Melissa (April Felder), who might be holding a grudge.  All of this is overseen by the amateur sleuths, the astute, Miss Maple (Phyllis Lang) and her faithful sidekick, Penny (Sharon Fullwood Prange).  But, an Inspector, in the form of the bumbling, John Dryfus (Michael Dave Allen) and his dorky officer, Bently (Jake Sparks) are on hand as well to add even more confusion to the mess.

But, as mentioned, the real joy of this story is the secret life of the characters and their reactions to the plot, which is both amusing and enlightening.  Their gyrations as they react to being one of the crumpled pages of the script is very clever, as well as the ending, which is quite touching.  Morrow has done a good job of casting his characters, as well as giving them bits of business appropriate to the story (although, beware, sometimes taking focus away from important information).

The cast, as the director wanted, does look like they’re having fun and community theatre is a great way to test out one’s “acting chops.”  I especially liked Wilgus, as the snakey assistant, as his features, movements, expressions and voice added much to the enjoyment of the show.  One note, though, Hansen, as Crispy, has the right look and obvious talent for the role but plays it like she is in an auditorium.  In other words, her voice and gestures overpower this small venue, so, I believe, she needs to tone it down a bit for this space.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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