BWW Review: DEATH BY DESIGN Done In By Deadly Pace

BWW Review: DEATH BY DESIGN Done In By Deadly Pace

Playwright Rob Urbinati had a clever idea with DEATH BY DESIGN: Take the sophisticated and witty banter of the characters of Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde and drop them into the middle of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. In order for all of this to work, he wrote it as a farce. Edward Bennett (Bill Clausen), a playwright, and his actress wife, Sorel (Ashleigh Pedersen) have just had a disastrous opening night and they've escaped London to hunker down in their country digs, only to have their peace shattered by the arrival of one unexpected screwball guest after another. When one of the guests is murdered, the manor's maid is determined to solve the crime.

Directed by Laura Haygood, who was at the helm of the riotously funny 39 Steps from a few seasons ago, I had high expectations. One of the reasons I make the sixty mile trek to Wimberley is because of the usual high quality of the theatre that is staged there. DEATH BY DESIGN unfortunately does not live up to the Wimberley Players usual high standards. To begin with, farce, by its very nature, is fast and furious. It is comedy with exaggerated situations that are improbable. While this production does have some of the requisite broadly stylized performances and physical comedy of a farce, it is ultimately done in by the deadly slow drawing room comedy pacing. Haygood's pacing is languorous where it should be frenetic. There are funereal like spaces between the characters' speeches. There were also a plethora of confusing actions: Why does the maid take the fire poker to poke the fake fire and then not have said poker connect with the actual logs? Who gives someone a box of unwrapped chocolates that are mostly empty wrappers? How does the maid know, from the kitchen, that someone has thrown said candy wrappers on the floor? If this had been directed as an actual farce, the audience would not have had the time to notice things like this. Or the fact that there is a lovely sound effect of a needle scratching across an old Victrola record when no one EVER takes the needle off the record in a manner that would result in the sound effect.

The set design by Carroll Dolezal, is truly lovely, and a terrific recreation of an English country manor. Likewise, Jillian Whitehead has done a nice job with sound that the actors don't take the care to mesh with more than once. The costumes, by Deborah Wilson, are quite charming with the exception of the very unfortunate and clearly unfinished pink outfit worn by Sorel. And why is an actor allowed, in a play set in 1932, to have long hair and sideburns that completely take the audience out of the period that the designers have clearly worked so hard to create with such loving details?

I am at a loss to explain the lighting by Elizabeth Smith and Adam Witko. Evidently, it is necessary to bring up a special green light on the bar every time someone touches one bottle. I'm guessing we aren't trusted to remember which bottle Edward added something to. (Hint: It is the bottle farthest downstage). I also fail to understand why a red or pink light had to be brought up every time there is a clue given. I guess that's for people who've never seen a mystery before. But, then again, it is the first time I have ever found the lighting of a show to be insulting to my intelligence.

The cast gets high marks on the various British accents which are, overall, executed quite well. A few times the cockney became hard to understand due to some diction issues. I enjoyed the sophisticated performances of Bill Clausen, as Edward and Ashleigh Pedersen as Sorel, his wife. I found Emma Brian's Victoria to be an over the top campy delight and truly enjoyed the restraint and naturalness of Manuel Duran's Eric. Kelly Martel was also charming as Alice.

Another major issue was that when we saw the show, it was under 30 degrees outside and for some entirely inexplicable reason, the air conditioning was on at full blast. I don't much enjoy having to put my coat and gloves on to watch a play just because my seat was under a blower.

In short, I can't recommend DEATH BY DESIGN. Give this one a miss and wait for next time, when, hopefully, the Wimberley Players are back to their usual high quality offerings.

DEATH BY DESIGN by Rob Urbinati

Running Time: Approximately Two and a Half hours, including intermission.

DEATH BY DESIGN, produced by Wimberley Players at Wimberley Playhouse (450 Old Kyle Road, Wimberley, TX, 78676).

Feb. 09 - Mar. 04 Fridays-Sundays. Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Reserved Seating $22; Students $18 with ID. (Ticket prices include all fees.) Tickets are available online at www.wimberleyplayers.org or by calling 512-847-0575.

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From This Author Frank Benge

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