BWW Reviews: REHEARSAL FOR MURDER by Milford Second Street Players
Murder mysteries are popular among community theaters, and Rehearsal for Murder is a murder mystery with a strong pedigree. Originally written as a teleplay by the team of Richard Levinson and William Link ("Columbo"), it was adapted for the stage by D. D. Brooke. Since it had been set in a theater, this seems a logical direction to take.
In essence, the play is that final scene in a "drawing room" mystery, where the Inspector or Detective or Sleuth calls the suspects together so that the culprit can be revealed. Of course, that's never a simple process; the potential of each of the suspects must be explored before the guilty party is exposed. Often, the detective reveals information previously unknown to provide a plot twist and surprise ending.
In Rehearsal for Murder, the "detective" is a famous playwright, Alex Dennison (Steve Twilley), whose fiancée, film star Monica Welles (Linda Killion) died exactly one year before, after a less than successful opening night of his play "Chamber Music". The police ruled her death a suicide, but Alex believes that she was murdered. He has spent the year in seclusion in Maine and has returned now with scenes from a new play, "Killing Jessica," through which he intends to expose Monica's killer.
We get some of the backstory from a conversation between Alex and Ernie (Rex Batchelor), the theater's handyman and we even meet Alex's deceased fiancée as we flashback to that opening night. We understand his preparations when his new assistant, Sally (Amber Clifford) arrives with the scripts for "Killing Jessica". Loretta (Aubrey Edwards), "Chamber Music's" stage manager, arrives to provide technical assistance.
Before the suspects arrive, Alex has a conversation with a mysterious man (Brandon Twilley) whom he asks to remain hidden at the back of the theater, to observe and only to intervene should one of Alex's suspects try to leave. In short order, the suspects arrive - Lloyd Andrews (Mark Dissinger) and Bella Lamb (Deanna Duby), respectively the director and producer of "Chamber Music". Karen Daniels (Julie Finley), who had been Monica's understudy, arrives, providing considerable details of her breakup with Leo Gibbs (Curtis Howard), "Chamber Music's" comic, who arrives soon after the show's leading man, David Matthew (Dennis McGeady). With the suspects assembled, the games begin.
Each of the suspects, in turn, plays out a scene that Alex has written - scenes that might have taken place that fateful night - revealing potential motives which each denies. These scenes are played out in a set that Alex has arranged - a set that is identical with the study in Monica's apartment, where the cast party was held. As each scene begins, Alex reads Monica's (that is, Jessica's) part but we soon see him replaced by Monica herself, so we see the scenes played as they might have happened.
Director Debra Passwaters has brought a diverse cast together to focus their various energies and talents to the purpose of leading the audience a merry chase to a surprising conclusion. Rehearsal for Murder fills in all the spaces that a murder mystery must - a slew of suspects, each of whom could have had motive and opportunity, a driven sleuth, a few "mechanicals" to keep the plot moving - the handyman, secretary, and stage manager, plus two policemen (Malcolm Keen and Jeremy Clifton) to investigate Monica's death (in a flashback), a moving man, Mr. Santoro (Michael Schmedlin), and one more (Bill Chamberlain) whose involvement is made clear by the end of the show. That's quite a cast, and Ms. Passwaters has got them all to work together as one.
There was a little confusion at the start of the show. Mr. Twilley, as Alex Dennison, enters, without fanfare, from the back of the auditorium and crosses the empty stage to place a briefcase on a stool. House lights were still up and most of the audience seemed unaware that the performance had actually begun; chatter continued for some time and even after the house lights had come down. Alex was well into his exchange with Ernie before the woman behind me was able to bring her game to a stopping point and shut it down.
The first flashback takes place before the curtain which closed on a bare stage and reopens to Monica's fully furnished study. Kudos to the stage crew for setting this scene behind the curtain so efficiently that the audience was surprised by its apparently magical appearance when the curtain was reopened.