BWW Reviews: DONE TO DEATH is a Real Killer at Oyster Mill
It was night. Not just any night. It was one of those nights that people were walking into a theatre and sitting down, like they were going to see a play. There was a stage. Not just any stage, but a stage set up to be... a stage. Doom hung thick in the air, like the fog on the San Francisco pier in the small hours. It was a night when someone could die. There were only two questions on everyone's mind - who would die, and who would die next. It was murder, all right. My name? You don't need to know it, buddy - you just need to let me tell you what I saw, and then I'm getting out of here. Forget you met me, got it?
So it was out at Oyster Mill Playhouse. There was this banner over the door. DONE TO DEATH. Some guy named Tom was directing it - Tom Moore. They say he's been here before. Something about radiation. And marigolds. Sounds pretty suspicious to me, but they let him back to direct this. Might have been a pretty good idea. He had a clue. Maybe more than one. More than the audience did, because, you know, a guy like that has the inside track. He got this horse race to the finish line, all right, but I tell you, the audience had no idea who to bet on in that race. Good thing there was an answer at the end, because it looked like nobody there had been able to solve the deaths. Not the audience, and not the detectives on stage. It was one of those crimes, the kind that Phil Marlowe used to hate to try to solve. You could bruise more than your knuckles on a problem like the one in DONE TO DEATH.
Television producers. Can't kill 'em (or can you?), can't go without television. One wants to produce a mystery show. Name's Joyce. Joyce Summers. Crazy dame. Annoying. Flush with cash. She hires a bunch of mystery writers, ones your mother read, ones whose movie adaptations you saw back when you were a kid. Hot sellers in their day, nobodies now. She wants them to work together to create plots for a mystery series using all of their different gimmicks. Twist endings. Spy gadgets. Hard boiled dicks with fedoras and coats. Booze. A lot of booze. The kind of booze that sends a man on a bender for a week, waking up with his head in the gutter and his shoes being ripped off his feet by a shoeless bum in the alley. And where are they going to work, but in a strange house on a rocky, deserted island with a launch that won't be coming to pick any of them up soon. And the Summers dame? She's going with them. Guess who shows up dead. Yeah, the crazy dame.
Well, you know writers. They think they can solve the murder the way their detective characters do, so they try. First up come Whitney and Jessica Olive (Anthony Geraci and Maria de la Hoz), kind of a Nick and Nora Charles, if Nick and Nora wrote mysteries and drank their way through them, and whose detective characters are just like them - witty, charming, and drunk. There's Mildred Z. Maxwell (Marcie Warner), who knits like a fiend and who plots those weird trick endings that get revealed on the last page. You heard of that Christie dame? Yeah, like her. And Brad Benedict (Paul Henry). He's one of those Cold War spy novelists, his spies have gadget things, kinda like Ian Fleming but he's an American, so maybe like Richard Condon or Donald Hamilton and his Matt Helm guy. And then there's Rodney Duckton (Ron Nason), the hard-boiled 'tec guy, the one who created that Jack Club cat. He's one cool character, and Club is even cooler - especially when Whitney Olive is playing him in front of Duckton to show how his character Club works.
Come to think of it, in a pretty darn funny kind of play, that may have been just about the funniest thing of all. That Geraci guy - he was some kinda comedian there. And that Nason? He had that Duckworth character down cold. Real, real cool there. Slick, even. The kind of slick that doesn't normally come with being pretty new to the stage. Hey, that's pretty suspicious, too, come to think of it. Gotta keep an eye on that one.
There's a few types hanging around playing those bit parts, too. They were good, real, real good. But the one, Andy Isaacs? He spends a chunk of the show playing a butler named Gregory. But he's got some kind of accent. Not one of those posh English ones, you know? Something Eastern European. Or maybe Russian. Russian, hey - could he be a spy? Talk about suspicious; maybe his name's really Gregor? You know, you could put him at the top of the suspect list... but with this mystery writer crowd trapped alone on the island, who'd believe that the butler did it? Seems a little too easy, too convenient. These writers, they're pretty smart, so it's gotta be someone nobody suspects... only thing is, they all seem to be... dead?
Whether you prefer the hardboiled PI genre of the creature that hijacked this review, or the cozy, elderly Miss Marple detective... or you'd rather have a spy with a wrist radio solve a case, they're all there, if only temporarily - because, yes, they're all dying rather creatively, almost as if they'd worked the pattern out among themselves. Someone's doing it, but when everyone's dead, who could have done it? DONE TO DEATH is an engaging farce that lovingly spoofs Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE as well as the various genres. If you're a mystery movie fan who liked CLUE, this is right up your alley. Moore's gathered a surprisingly delightful cast and let them deliver... a killer production. Catch Geraci's "Jack Club" impersonation, Isaac's conspicuously likely-to-be-dangerous butler, and Marcie Warner's ability to make everyone defer to mystery queen Maxwell, even though the Olives think they're calling the shots. Nason's Rodney Duckworth is also well worth it, as well as his silent-movie crazed mad-scientist theory being acted out on stage.
At Oyster Mill Playhouse, Camp Hill, through August 31. Call 717-737-6768 for tickets and information, or visit www.oystermill.com.