BWW Review: DEATH BY DESIGN Brings Laughs at Oyster Mill
Rob Urbinati, author of DEATH BY DESIGN, writes that he planned to create a play that combined Agatha Christie with Noel Coward - and it shows. Five minutes in, one might well ask if they're watching HAY FEVER or SPIDER'S WEB, though the play lacks both Coward's deft touch with dialogue and Christie's shrewd plotting (one should have the crime solved part way through Act Two at latest if they've paid attention). But it's diverting enough, especially given the right cast, and if there's anything that Oyster Mill Playhouse proudly can claim as its own, it's the drawing room mystery.
Yes, DEATH BY DESIGN is at Oyster Mill, and if any theatre in the area should stage it, it's undoubtedly a perfect Oyster Mill play. The intimacy of the theatre makes it feel as if you're in the drawing room with the characters, and the stage is perfectly sized for the sort of mystery play drawing room that can handle mysterious villains, assorted bodies, and plenty of skulking about in your typical country home.
Edward and Sorel Bennett (Gordon Einhorn and Anne Marino) are the Coward-variety sparring celebrity couple, he a successful playwright and she the star for whom he writes plays... that she's tired of doing. But she's not exactly Sarah Bernhardt, he's not exactly George Bernard Shaw, and while each of them is aware of the other's limitations, they've no clue of their own. Einhorn and Marino, married in real life, are clearly having fun on stage with their parts, and the audience can feel that. The author attempts a few Coward-style spatting-couple dialogue efforts, though they pale in comparison to "Don't quibble, Sybil;" - however, Marino and EInhorn do a thoroughly entertaining job with the material.
But, as with so many Oyster Mill mysteries, it's really Aliza Bardfield's show to own. Here she's Bridgit, the Irish maid, who rather than being the worried but amusing Christie presumed villainess, is in fact the amateur detective. Rather than being a scatterbrain, Bridgit is in fact the only person in the house with one iota of common sense, and she knows it. She's also a first-class snoop, though with the goings-on at the Bennetts' country home, most things tend to happen in front of almost everyone. As always, Bardfield delivers on her part, and she's enjoyable to watch in action, trying to hold down a crumbling fort with one hand and using a magnifying glass for clues in the other.
Expect confused chauffeurs (Mark Scott), perplexed politicos (Stephan Jahn), dotty dancers (Megan Mcclain) and a host of others to wander through the house over the weekend, all unexpected guests to one or both of the Bennetts, trying to take the edge off their problems by drinking their way through the situation (partly because with no one expected at the house, including the Bennetts, Bridgit didn't get to go shopping for food for the weekend). Chaos, as one might well hope, ensues, and in quantity.
Kristen Borgerson Ottens is the director here, and she's done an excellent job, as does the cast, with the thin material, fleshing it out to something considerably larger than it otherwise would be. It's a comedy, so all's well that ends well, whether or not the Bennetts will ever stop quarreling.
At Oyster Mill through the 17th, and a fine treat for Father's Day for any dad who's up for it. Visit oystermill.com for tickets and information.