Verbal wordplay flies faster than bullets
Jack Sharkey’s The Murder Room” is a delightfully wacky, witty spoof of the dead serious British murder mysteries of the post-war era of the 1950s.
The sophisticated, madcap script is catnip for the talented Bowie Community Theatre ensemble deftly directed by Gayle Negri.
The set by Dan Lavanga, and lit by Garrett Hyde, is an upper-class living room in Bynewood Cottage, on a small estate in the north part of England. There is a staircase at the rear of the stage, plus three doors through which the seven characters pop in and out – plus another, unknown entrance.
The show’s costumes, by Jeane Binney, convey the feeling of the late 1950s without slavishly copying the era. Binney took extra care to portray Mavis as a sensual seductress through the curve of a hip drape or the cut of the neckline in a V-neck dress.
Early in July 1959, a vivacious, young Mavis Hollister arrives home to find her elderly husband Edgar Hollister wearing a dinner jacket, coolly sipping a martini.
She is stunned.
He’s supposed to be dead.
Before Mavis left the house earlier in the evening, claiming she had plans to attend a church committee meeting, Mavis prepared a cup of hot cocoa for the man she had married only that morning after a brief courtship.
She added a special ingredient to the drink – potassium cyanide.
Edgar let Mavis’ cat lap up the toxic cocoa. When the cat zipped out of the house in a death run, Edgar followed and discovered his brand new wife might be having an affair.
Thinking she might be a gold-digger solely interested in him for his money, upon his returnto the house Edgar called his lawyer to discuss changing his will.
It is delicious to watch Erica Smith tear into the role of the scheming, manipulative, murderous Mavis. She does it with carnivorous zest, telegraphing her character’s thoughts and split-second story changes with the scrunch of her bright red lips.
William Hardy as Edgar, is a smooth, urbane, older gentleman – or is he?
Edgar queries Mavis on her evening activities.
She went to a church meeting.
Oh, Edgar responds. The minister called. The meeting was cancelled.
Mavis frantically changes her story with each new revelation introduced by Edgar. He describes how he wound up outside an apartment door, listening as his wife and another man popped a champagne cork and danced a torrid tango.
The verbal zinging flies faster than bullets.
Suddenly, a frustrated Mavis pulls out a gun and shoots Edgar.
Her aim is lousy. It takes three shots before Edgar keels over.
Mavis picks up the phone and calls her lover.
That’s just the first scene. Of six.
The next morning, Edgar’s body is gone.
She calls the local police department to report him missing.
But, more shocks await Mavis.
Edgar’s daughter Susan Hollister, his only child by his late first wife, arrives. Susan’s been in the U.S. for several years, earning a degree at an American college. Caity Brown portrays Susan, a cheerful dim bulb, with the open-mouthed, wide-eyed innocence of a Kewpie doll.
With her is her fiancé, Barry Draper (Joel Consolati), an earnest young millionaire whom she met on the boat to England.
The live-in housekeeper, Lottie Malloy (Liz Dapo), is not pleased her employer went missing the day he remarried. Then, there’s the nosy cops Inspector James Crandall (Brian Binney) and Constable Abel Howard (a double role played by William Hardy).
The crazy, ever-changing plot thickens and envelopes the zany characters, but it’s the double-entendres, silly puns,and cheesy one-liners that make the show hysterically fun and memorable.
The cast’s timing with their bon mots is perfect.
Trying to share a secret, Inspector Crandall asked, “Can we be overheard in here?”
“If you like,” responded Mavis.
At another turn, Lottie needs some assistance. She demands, “Give me a hand.”
Draper begins clapping.
The final scene in a murder mystery is where, traditionally, every loose plot line is tied up in a big, neat bow. Not here!
Revealing the plot beyond the first scene would be unfair. With never a dull moment, The Murder Room is intended to be enjoyed, savored, and laughed at in person.
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
The Murder Room plays through November 15, 2014 at Bowie Community Theatre performing at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. The building is in White Marsh Park off Rt. 3 in Bowie, on the southbound side between Routes 450 and 50. For tickets, call the box office a (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online.