‘Death by Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center

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The appreciative audience at the Greenbelt Arts Center tonight found themselves transported to a 1930’s English manor house, complete with dead body and amateur detective! It was their adept production of Death by Design, a whodunit that combined the murder with a great amount of laughs, making for a very amusing evening.

The cast of 'Death by Design.' Photo by Jon Barrett.
The cast of ‘Death by Design.’ Photo by Rachel Wallace.

Death by Design, written by Rob Urbinati, is a murder-mystery that combines the intricate plotting of Agatha Christie with the wit and humor of Noel Coward. Edward and Sorel Bennett, the perpetually-fighting husband and wife, retire to their house in the country, joined by their long-suffering maid Bridget and their chauffeur Jack, as multiple uninvited guests arrive.  Tensions rise, until they ultimately culminate in murder! Under the direction of the feisty maid Bridget, the murderer is eventually ferreted out, among a multitude of puns, quips, witty insults, and even occasional bouts of interpretative dance. While the plot at times seemed a bit thin, or too convoluted for its own good, it was nonetheless enjoyable.

Overall, it was a very capable production of this entertaining play. The actors all attacked their parts with relish, really getting into character and diving in with gusto. Shelley Rochester, as the detective/maid Bridget, really shone in the second act as she ferreted out the murderer from among her cast of suspects.

There was the excellent Colin Davies as the perpetually punny playwright Edward Bennett, and the delightfully ditzy Jill Vanderweit as his slightly silly spouse Sorel Bennett.

James McDaniel was a great straight man to the wacky antics of the other characters as the stiff murderee Walter Pearce, while Alie Kamara was hilariously indignant as the deranged social activist Eric. Rounding out the cast was Winard Britt as the chauffeur Jack, Jenn Robinson as the bohemian Victoria Van Roth, and Sara K. Scott as the sweet Alice. There were occasional moments of over-acting, though in such a self-referential, jokey play, that’s almost de rigeur. The cast was at their best though in the ensemble scenes, where they were able to play off everyone else, as opposed to the scenes of just two or three characters, which dragged and slowed down the pacing and momentum.

 Colin Davies and Jill Vanderweit. Photo by Jon Barrett.
Colin Davies and Jill Vanderweit. Photo by Jon Barrett.

Directed by Ann Lowe-Barrett and produced by William Powell Jr., the play was also well-served by the efforts of the production staff. Choreographer Kristen Briscoe gave Jenn Robinson (Victoria Van Roth) fun dances that excellently fit her character, while Dialect Coach Pauline Griller-Mitchell made sure that the cockney accents of Winard Britt and Shelley Rochester were “spot on.” With a set that really evoked the mood of the remote country house and costumes that evoked the 1930s, Set Designer Rachel Marie Wallace and Costumer Designers Ann Lowe-Barrett and Mindi Bishop helped bring the play to life. The able lighting design by Tommy Zanner and Emma Shugrue and sound design by Penny Martin also contributed well to the mood of the play.

The Greenbelt Arts Center’s production of Death by Design is a fun, entertaining way to spend an evening, in the capable hands of the actors and their backstage support.

Running Time: Two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

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Death by Design plays through Sunday, November 23, 2014 at the Greenbelt Arts Center—123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call (301) 441-8770, or purchase them online.

LINKS
Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 1: Meet Jill Vanderweit.

Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 2: Meet Sarah K. Scott.

Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 3: Meet Shelley Rochester.

Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 4: Meet Colin Davies.

Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 5: Meet James McDaniel.

Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 6: Meet Alie Kamara.

Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 7: Meet Jenn Robinson.

Meet the Cast of ‘Death By Design’ at Greenbelt Arts Center:Part 8: Meet Winard Britt.