February 3, 2013

Review: Wacky 'Death by Design' kills it

By APRIL BOYLE

The play is called "Death by Design," but don't expect it to unlock the mystery to designing the perfect murder, unless the weapon of choice is laughter.

THEATER REVIEW

“Death by Design” by Good Theater

WHERE: The St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St, Portland

DATE REVIEWED: Friday; play runs Feb. 24

TICKETS: $15-$25

CONTACT: 885-5883, www.goodtheater.com

What playwright Rob Urbinati has designed is a recipe for fun that's perfect for livening up the dead of winter: Combine one part murder, two parts mayhem and season with a hearty dose of clever wit.

It's likely not a play you've ever heard of. Good Theater's production is the East Coast premiere of "Death by Design," and only the second time it has been staged.

The play comes to Good Theater following a world premiere in Houston in 2011. Audiences this time around are being treated to a new ending.

Urbinati was on hand for the final dress rehearsal and first two public performances at Good Theater, tweaking the play. Samuel French Inc. will soon publish the final version.

Think Noel Coward-meets-Agatha Christie, and you'll have some idea what to expect. Both served as inspiration for "Death by Design."

The result is a smart play, masquerading as an all-out farce.

"Death by Design" is so chock-full of puns, one-liners, off-the-wall references and keen jokes that one viewing alone could never glean all its comic gems.

Good Theater's Brian P. Allen has cast a thoroughly entertaining ensemble that capitalizes on every little nuance of Urbinati's diverting murder mystery.

The play takes place in 1932 at the British country home of playwright Edward Bennett (Rob Cameron) and his actress wife, Sorel (Abigail Killeen). It's a heated marriage where banter and vases fly with equal ferocity, often leaving Edward the worse for wear.

"My training in phonetics left me ill-equipped for married life," quips a bandage-wrapped Edward during one of their comic rows.

Cameron and Killeen have strong chemistry that sparks plenty of laughter. And both are more than willing to play up the ridiculous constructs of their characters.

The Bennetts playfully toy with the idea of doing each other in, but as the character Alice (Kay Moraros) asserts, "Being married isn't the only reason to want to kill someone."

The object of everyone's murderous intentions in this wacky whodunit is Walter Pearce (Paul Haley), a hypocritical politician with a sordid past. And, there are plenty of outrageous suspects at the house to point the finger at.

There's the raving radical, Eric (Matthew Delamater), who despises everything Pearce represents; there's the free-spirited artist/dancer, Victoria Van Roth (Janice Gardner), who is offended by Pearce's philistine sensibility; and, of course, there's the mysterious stranger, Alice.

Urbinati's secret ingredient in this comic recipe is the Bennetts' two-member staff: the philandering chauffeur, Jack (Benjamin Row), and the true-crime obsessed Irish maid, Bridgit (Susan Reilly).

Row and Reilly are scene-stealers from the moment they step on stage at the opening of the play. Row's expressive antics are icing on this comic cake, and Reilly's no-nonsense attitude is the sassy sprinkles on top.

Good Theater offers a fun retreat from the winter blahs. Who couldn't use a little "comedy with murder" in this frigid Maine weather? After all, revenge is a dish best served cold.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

aprilhboyle@yahoo.com

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