Thom Parrott writing as T. O. Dawes
co-author of THE MURDER GAME
Wit, suspense mingle in premier of 'Murder Game'
New production offers community a 'delightful evening' review of the sold out production by Anne Poore
staff writer for the Los Alamos Monitor
Want to lose yourself for two delightful hours? Then go to see "The Murder Game," Los Alamos Little Theatre's current production.
It is witty, suspensful and well-acted from beginning to end. The first collaboration of Albuquerque playwrights A. A. MacGregor and T. O. Dawes, "The Murder Game" had its world premiere here Friday, and will continue at the Performing Arts Center every Friday and Saturday this month with curtain at 8:15 p.m.
The plot is just within reach of being totally believable, in the vein of a Sherlock Holmes intrigue, yet improbable enough to be a farce at the same time. The authors blend the two elements -- mystery and comedy -- in a very skillful manner.
The plot provides a humorous mingling of an odd assortment of people: a group of writers in a comfortable upper class home. The group makes up "The Fellowship," an organization which ostensibly raises money for struggling writers. However, its members like to stage mock murders to fool would-be members -- the Fellowship observes how the newcomer reacts to their macabre deeds as an initiation.
And so, shortly into Act I, the audience has witnessed a murder, a corpse lies on stage, the phone lines to the house have been cut, all the tires to all the cars have been slashed, and the plot really begins to thicken. The intricacies of the mystery move along quickly and smoothly, thanks in no small part to two of the characters: Higgins and the Police Detective.
Joel Rickman, as the dour English butler, Higgins, is understated, all-observing and haughty, exactly what the character calls for. It's worth the price of admission just to see him, and Jeanne Stein, who plays the detective. As the plump cross-examiner who ruefully munches celery while asking questions, Stein steals the show with her humor and the skill of her every move.
The rest of the cast is uniformly good; each suits admirably the character he is playing. Mary Ann Kelly, in her first performance in a Little Theatre production, is the initiate into the Fellowship, the person for whom the "murder game" is being played. Younger and less worldly than the others, and the only person who is not a writer of some kind, Kelly puts the exuberance called for in her role as Alice White, a comic ingenue.
Richard Cooper plays her step-uncle, Walter White, Sr.; he is the reason the beautiful young woman is there. The house in which the scene is set is his, but it belongs half the year to his ex-wife, Harriet, played very, very briefly by Graciela Cainelli. Higgins is White's butler.
Helen Jones skillfully portrays Beatrice Ashford, an enigmatic Fellowship member. Petite Valerie Levi stalks the stage with the humor needed for a love-struck writer whose story about the bearskin on the wall -- she did it "singlehanded" -- has grown through the years.
The object of her silent worship is fellow-author Roger Anthony, played with aplomb by Eric Jones. Jim Sicilian gives a fine and believable performance as the oldest member of the Fellowship, Basil Hernsley. His tea cup trembles just slightly and his step is suitably slow.
Duncan Hoehn portrays the sickly looking Melvin Winthrop extremely well. The treasurer of the Fellowship, he is supposedly diabetic, and spends much of his time in his room.
Providing excellent comic relief during the questioning of suspects -- because a real murder does in fact occur -- are Graciela Cainelli and T. J. Severinghaus as the detective's two policemen.
Appearing briefly are two deliverymen, Stan Zygmunt and Mike Pasieka, and Eric Bjorklund as White's son.
The lighting crew, Neil David, Bob Crowley and Joe Greene deserve special commendations for their work. The entire play takes place in the living room of a comfortable house; the set is pleasing and was designed to make the most of the small space, suggesting more areas than were shown, thanks to Lou Schlatterer.
But the lighting creatively enhances the mystery in every crucial scene.
Director Micki Dick deserves credit for pulling together a most entertaining, smoothly running performance of a play in its very first production. Notes from the program indicate playwright Dawes is rewriting "The Murder Game" for the screen. Hats off to the efforts of Los Alamos Little Theatre for having the courage to sponsor a competition to find and then to stage a previously unproduced, new play. Don't miss it.
"T. O. Dawes" is the pen name of Thom Parrott.
In a competition held by Los Alamos Little Theatre, "The Murder Game" was the winner over 41 other plays from writers in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.
The writers "play fair" with the audience -- clues were obscured by context but all were presented on stage.