Bowie Community Theatre’s A Tomb With A View Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
BCT’s latest production, Norman Robbins’ A Tomb With a View, is a comedy thriller about a wealthy, more than a little eccentric family gathered at the family country manor for the reading of their late father’s will. Naturally, under these circumstances, not everyone who arrives, leaves. Under the direction of Jeffery Lesniak, the Tomb Family definitely give the audience a view to a kill—several of them, in fact.
The basic plot is a familiar one, but the author has given it an unusual twist. Think of Ten Little Indians as staged by Edward Gorey or Charles Addams, with a few characters reminiscent of the Brewsters from Arsenic and Old Lace.
Lucien (Rich Koster) is a thoroughly unpleasant and arrogant eldest son who is greatly concerned that someone might discover his “laboratory” and God-knows-what kind of “experiments.” Brother Oliver is heard but not seen; I leave you to discover why. Dora (Jeanne Louise) is a wispy, flighty, gardening, and wine-making spinster who suffers from paranoia–with good reason, as it turns out. Emily (Maribeth Vogel) is a sharp-tongued, mannish woman in tweed who is there to make darned sure she gets what is coming to her (ominous sound effect goes here). Marcus (Rob Allen) believes he is Julius Caesar and delivers his Shakespearean remarks with great dignity and aplomb. Monica (Stephanie Allender) uses her allure to achieve her own ends and will let nothing stand in the way of getting what she wants.
Of course, every aristocratic family must have at least a couple of faithful family retainers, and the Tombs are no exception. Family solicitor Hamilton Penworthy (John Decker) is desperately uncomfortable about the reading of the will. He knows that some particular provisions therein will make some of the beneficiaries spectacularly unhappy. Housekeeper Agatha Hammond (Joanne Bauer) has been with the family forever. She knows where all the bodies are buried, you might say, and knows all the family’s secrets except the provisions of said will. Nurse Franklin (Terra Elaine Vigil-Wynn) takes care of Marcus and is fairly new to the family but has no problem voicing her opinions to anyone who will listen.
Into the midst of all these people comes famous author Freda Mountjoy (Diana Hutter) with her timid but handsome secretary Peregrine Potter (Alex Hyder) in tow. The late Mr. Tomb has left her a bequest of some kind, and the entire family is (dare I say it?) dying to find out what it is. Suffice it to say that Ms. Mountjoy has an agenda and an enormous secret of her own.
I will not divulge more details of the plot; those of you familiar with English manor house mysteries know what to expect and will not be disappointed. There are plenty of comic moments and a couple of moments that made me jump in my seat, and there were enough surprises to keep me guessing right up to the big reveal.
Set Designer Ryan Ronan has created a wonderful English manor house in which the characters can behave very badly indeed—with plenty of chairs for the reading, doors to hallways and secret passages, and oddly empty bookshelves on two sides, all overshadowed by a large and somewhat unsettling portrait of the late Mr. Tomb. The lighting design by Garrett Hyde and sound effects by Jeffery Lesniak create a perfectly sinister environment for the machinations and shenanigans that ensue. Valerie Mikles’ costumes, especially Dora’s, are beautifully chosen and reflect their characters’ personalities perfectly.
The cast all gave solid performances and were committed to their characters. Standouts include Jeanne Louise, whose Dora combines tremulous paranoia with rampant homicidal tendencies; Joanne Bauer, whose Agatha goes from sinister to sunny in a very funny flash; and Rob Allen, who gives Marcus an immensely appealing combination of gravitas and innocence.
I found the pacing to be a bit slow, even draggy at times, but that problem will no doubt resolve itself over the course of the run. Some of the dialogue could have benefited from judicious editing and more brisk delivery. The tone is also problematic; I found myself wondering if this production was trying to be a true thriller rather than a comedy. It seemed to me that it was trying hard to be both in fairly equal measure. Perhaps the story would be better served with a strong turn in one direction or the other.
Overall, however, A Tomb With a View is entertaining and fun, with just enough of the macabre to make it a refreshing change from the usual dark and stormy night, English manor house mystery fare.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
A Tomb With a View plays through July 31, 2016 at Bowie Community Theatre performing at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online.