Some (okay all) of my family members are continually telling me I have no sense of humor. I prefer to think of myself as discerning where comedy is concerned. In any case, I’m generally a hard sell with comedy, so when I tell you I was rolling in the aisles and laughing my head off along with the rest of the full house at Los Alamos Little Theatre Friday for opening night of “Murdered to Death” it’s quite a compliment to the play and the performers.
The first of Peter Gordon’s (no relation, darn it) Inspector Pratt mysteries, “Murdered to Death” is a wild spoof on Agatha Christie’s very British who-dun-its. One of Dame Agatha’s most famous sleuths, Miss Marple, even appears thinly disguised as the nearly identical “Miss Maple” (Linda Taylor). Gordon examines every mystery cliché and plays it for laughs instead of shivers. For example, Miss Maple wonders why a death occurs every place she visits, something that has always puzzled me about Miss Marple, I must say.
All of our favorite Christie stock characters, the innocent ingénue, the blustering military man, the suave Frenchman, the sexy siren, the loyal family retainer, and of course the brilliant police inspector assisted by his naïve but plucky assistant–except everything is topsy-turvy and played for guffaws and giggles.
The action takes place in (where else?) the lounge of an English country house. Mildred (Patricia Beck), an upper class widow and her young niece Dorothy (Kate Ramsey) are awaiting the arrival of house guests.
The flighty Mildred and the down to earth Dorothy are served by Bunting (Jim Sicilian) who takes every word literally, not from slow wits but from a madcap willfulness. Early in the play, he appears in the lounge with an axe over his shoulder looking homicidal, but it turns out, he merely means to chop firewood in the middle of the posh room. Sicilian does a wonderful job with this quirky character, making him seem somehow both a bit demonic and a bit whimsical at the same time. Although creaky and slow-moving when sober, he is sprightly and nimble when drunk, which is more than half of the time.
The first guests to arrive are Colonel Craddock (Patrick MacDonald) and his wife Margaret (Sara Barber). It is immediately clear that Margaret finds her bluff, clueless husband insufferable. He continually calls her “old girl”, which she detests and is oblivious to her protests.
Margaret’s attitude toward everyone might be described as polite and prim aggression. Barber is stunning in this role, which contains none of the high-jinx and obvious laugh lines many of the characters get to work with. Her understated simmering anger is perfectly portrayed.
It is soon revealed that Mildred and the Colonel have a long-standing liaison, which Mildred is desperately trying to rekindle.
Next to arrive are French art dealer Pierre Marceau (Iain May) and his companion Elizabeth Hartley-Trumpington (Alexis Perry). This glamourous but well-bred young lady and the suave Frenchman are obviously up to something. Both play their parts to the hilt to comic effect. I especially enjoyed the oh so polite sniping between the alluring Elizabeth and the dowdy Dorothy.
Next on the scene is Miss Maple (Linda Taylor), in sensible tweeds and Wellingtons. She is first viewed peeking in the window. She valiantly resists all efforts to get rid of her. Taylor is delightfully dotty under her sensible veneer.
When Mildred is shot by an unseen gunman/gunwoman, the stage is set for the intrepid Inspector and his loyal assistant to appear and solve the crime.
When the very aptly named Inspector Pratt (John Gustafson) comes on stage the comedy really takes off. The puns and malapropisms fly as the conceited, but dull-witted Pratt mangles his way through his interrogation, falling over every available piece of furniture. If there is a wrong end to any stick, Pratt is sure to grab it. Gustafson is marvelous in this difficult role, managing tricky lines in a British accent while falling over furniture. He’s got the best part and he does it proud.
Assisting Pratt is the hapless Constable Thompkins (Michael Adkins) who has 10 times the wits of his superior and is in more danger from the bumbling Pratt than from the criminals. Adkins does wonders with this small part. He’s so earnest you want to give him a hug.
All of the actors do a great job and I would give more examples if this review wasn’t getting too long. Bravo!
In this directing debut, Patrick Webb manages all the simultaneous verbal and physical comedy very well. I have to give a shout out to costumer Pam Justice. All the costumes were absolutely perfect. Cast and crew alike did a wonderful job with this truly hilarious comedy.
It would be a crime to miss it.
Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. through Jan. 31 with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee, Jan. 25. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for students, and can be purchased at CB FOX, online at lalt.org, or at the door prior to the show. The humor will go over the heads of those under 10 but there isn’t any content that is inappropriate for even the youngest.
The Los Alamos Little Theatre is at 1670 Nectar St.