Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Murdered to Death
"Drama is easy, comedy is hard." Everyone knows that. Let us now add satire and farce to the canon.
Evening Star Productions in Boca has mounted a very funny play, Murdered to Death by Peter Gordon, with an ambitious cast of ten. Like a Christie-esque send up of Miss Marple mysteries, it is even more reminiscent of Neil Simon's Murder by Death with its cliched characters.
We have the dowager of the manor (the lovely Phyllis Spear) who has a few secrets, the outrageously affected Colonel (Murphy Hayes), and his tightly wound, "seen it all" wife (Kitt Marsh). The interlopers turn out to be the most fun: a Frenchman (or is he?), played by a stupendous Christopher Mitchell with the intentionally grotesque French accent needed, and his cohort, Renee Elizabeth Turner who has a ball devouring any scenery within reach. Best of all are Seth Trucks as the Inspector and Lito Becerra as his Constable; both inject the right amount of pseudo-realism to their characters. Jim Gibbons as Bunting the Butler, ax perpetually in hand, manages to steal every scene he is in with perfect vocal timing and a knack for underplaying.
The problem with "pseudo-realism" is that it shows just how disjointed the performances turn out to be. The director, Rosalie Grant, has an eye for blocking but falls short on characterization. It seems as though she couldn't decide if this was a "Murder She Wrote," a sitcom, or an ersatz-Noel Coward comedy. We have several actors, especially the lovely Amanda Ortega as the dowager's niece, doing an excellent British accent while the others run the gamut of non-existent to alarming.
I hesitate to use the word "uneven" but the evening I attended, things were off-kilter due to a lack of cohesive style. When one is sending up said style it has to be done with a delicacy that will not shove the laughs down people's throats. It should be done with accents as appetizers rather than as the full main course, especially if the accents are not spot-on. When actors are struggling with accents they tend to lose their timing. This was most apparent in the last 15 minutes of the play when everything gets wrapped up in endless exposition. There were pauses one could have flown a 747 through. There were other moments of not picking up cues but in the last scene it was unforgivable. The show is 15 minutes too long. I lie. It's not. It just seems that way due to the slow action of the ending. Pacing was a definite problem throughout and Ms. Grant, I am sure, will get everyone moving along with brush-ups.
On a very positive note, Evening Star realizes the importance of a terrific set in a problematic space and they hired Sean McClelland, certainly South Florida's premier set designer to design a lovely country manor. The costumes, by Briana Earhart are just right and the lighting and sound by Denise Michele and Rosalie Grant, respectively, are top-notch.
It's a funny play that will, I am sure, with the terrific talents involved, fall into place as soon as timing is settled and everyone realizes the importance of pacing.
Evening Star Productions' Murdered to Death plays through May 1, 2016, at the Sol Theatre, 3333 No. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL. For tickets and information, call 561-447-8829 or visit eveningstarproductions.org.