‘A Murder is Announced’ at Cockpit in Court by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
A murder is announced: to take place at the time of 8:00 pm, on Fridays and Saturdays, and recurring on Sunday afternoons at 2:00 pm in the upstairs cabaret space of Cockpit in Court. Do be present, particularly if you intend to be the victim. Cockpit in Court closes their summer season with a deliciously thrilling Agatha Christie murder mystery, complete with hokey ‘whodunit’ sound effects at the end of each climactic scene. Who’s the killer? Who’s the victim? You’ll have to attend this masterpiece, Directed by Sherrionne Brown, to find out. Dun! Dun! Dun!

The Cast of "A Murder is Announced." Photo courtesy of Cockpit in Court.
The Cast of “A Murder is Announced.” Photo courtesy of Cockpit in Court.

Serving as the show’s Scenic Designer, Sherrionne Brown crafts beauty and brilliance into the set design, giving these 1950’s English parlors their distinctive timeless charm. Brown’s attention to detail is stunning; the little fixtures that add decorative touches make the room feel cozy. Sprightly green walls are accented with rich cherry-wood doorframes and windows; and there are enough polished old-fashioned chairs, sofas, and rolling ottomans to comfortably seat the entire cast all at once.

While the costumes don’t immediately scream 1950’s London, Costume Designer James J. Fasching does ensure that they look authentically mysterious. There are even scenes when no one is wearing the same color, a bit like a game of Clue unfolding before the audience’s eyes as the characters enter individually. Fasching does exceptional work with Mrs. Swettenham’s (Ruta Douglas Smith) peculiar threads, always decked out to the nines in the most absurd manner. If it’s not a full animal draped around her neck it’s enormous feathers and dead birds pinned to her hat; the perfect look of eccentricity to add a little flavor to an already suspenseful murder mystery.

Director Sherrionne Brown has woven layers of suspense into the characters as they arrive. Little ways the actors sit and stand, or enter and exit a room, the way they speak and how they articulate certain words makes just about everyone seem likely to be the murderer before the play draws to its enthralling conclusion. Brown does, however, take us on a bumpy ride down accent lane. While many of the cast do manage a proper British accent that suits the show, a few fade in and out quite drastically, Lady Blacklock and Julia included in the latter category. Brown’s coaching of Mitzi’s accent, however, is impressive. Sounding like a rogue with a chip on her shoulder the cook’s Hungarian accent is cause for a great deal of laughter when she butchers English grammar and stomps about like a furious hornet ready to sting at anyone who dares protest her cooking.

There’s always trouble afoot when there’s family involved. Brother and sister Patrick (Jordan Friend) and Julia (Megan Farber) are quite the troublesome duo, verbally sparring with one another and making faces throughout the better part of the production. Friend’s accent is spot on and his jovial attitude overall, erring on the side of lusciously drunk, peppers amusement into his character as one might a fine stew. His facial expressions are quite the picture, particularly when they become painted with lipstick in the second act.

Kind and sweet Phillipa (Neena Boyle) does her best to stay out of everyone’s way. There is something eerily calming about her presence on the stage; when she speaks she captivates everyone’s sympathy. Boyle interacts well with the others, casually sliding into relationships of all sorts, particularly where Edmund Swettenham (Emil Sueck) is concerned. Sueck is the epitome of snobbery wrapped up into a pretty-boy polished look. With a chip on his shoulder and an attitude to prove it, he struts about the lodging house as if he owns the place; might he also have something to hide?

The woman at the center of it all is Letitia Blacklock (Janise Whelan). A bit over trusting of just about everyone, Whelan does not take long to settle into the character’s insecurities. The emotional outbursts that come flying out of her mouth once she accepts that someone is out to murder her are loud and heartfelt. And she’s forever doting upon poor Bunny (Mickey Mullany). Being the confused aloof woman, Mullany masters the role of teetering on the brink of her memorable sanity. With a slow pace and great pauses in both her speech patterns and her movement, Mullany plays a convincing woman of that age and mental state.

Inspector Craddock (Marc Rehr) arrives on the scene with his own unique brand of humor, often amusing himself (and the audience, though no one else in scene) with the quirky things that come flying out of his mouth. Rehr has a polish almost Scottish sound to his voice and knows exactly how to deliver moments of extreme exasperation while playing them for truth in the scene. His sharp retorts never sound forced, even when his eyebrows are surging high up into his hairline. Accompanied by the unofficial Junior Detective Mrs. Marple (Heidi Toll) the case may not be a lost cause! Toll is wonderfully present every time she appears on the scene, and brings a bouncing sense of comedy with her; creeping in holding the gun to prove a point, asking crazy questions and calmly explaining situations as if she were Sherlock himself. Toll’s soft and muddled accent is as appropriately mysterious as her character turning up at the oddest of times. This particular role is Toll’s finest work ever executed on stage.

Mitzi (Ilana Hirschhorn) and Inspector Craddock (Marc Rehr). Photo courtesy of Cockpit in Court.
Mitzi (Ilana Hirschhorn) and Inspector Craddock (Marc Rehr). Photo courtesy of Cockpit in Court.

The show stealer that keeps the audience in stitches is Mitzi (Ilana Hirschhorn). Wherever there is drastic mystery an element of comedy never hurts to defuse the tension and Hirschhorn brings the laughs with her into every scene. A wild and crazy accent with hair that’s equally bonkers has her off-kilter right from the beginning of the show. She’s bitter and snaps at the littlest comments. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of her; between her histrionics and her bouts of raging temper it’s an uproarious good time with the Hungarian cook of the house. Hirschhorn may steal the show but make sure she doesn’t steal your favorite teacup! Or your life! A brilliant well-rounded and grounded performance well worthy of praise from this young actor, making the show a smashing success.

Bring along your magnifying glass if you think it will help, Delicious Death will be served just after intermission, so do be cautious! This is one murder mystery you will not want to miss.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

A Murder is Announced plays through August 4, 2013 at Cockpit in Court — on the main stage of the Theatre Building of the Community of College of Baltimore County Essex Campus – 7201 Rossville Boulevard, in Rosedale, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 840-2787, or purchase them online.

1 COMMENT

  1. Did we see the same show? It was dreadful! Customs that didn’t fit properly or were of a totally incorrect time period. Accents that spanned the gamut from okay to just plain bizarre (including the ‘Southern’ drawl of the Inspector). A few of the actors tried valiantly to save this sinking ship, but they were outnumbered by slow pacing, a wordy script, and poor direction. Save your money and rent an Agatha Christie mystery on DVD from the library.

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