A suspicious death. Eclectic family members.
And everybody's packing. Wisecracking P.I. Jack Sparks really has his work cut out for him.
The production is “Murder Runs in the Family,” a mystery black comedy written by author, Pat Cook. The show, which spoofs the works of mystery authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, opened Friday evening (re-upping from an earlier pandemic closing) at Westminster Community Playhouse to an audience excited not only about their newest hit play, but also about theatre being live again.
As much a satirical comedy lampooning the genre as it is a mystery whodunit, the play sparks not only the element of suspense, but the funny bone, and is set to run for three weekends, closing August 22nd.
Cook got his first taste of seeing his work in print when he was still in high school writing for the school paper. It wasn't until college, however, when he saw Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, that he decided to try his hand at writing plays, like “Rest in Peace,” and “Much Ado About Murder.” As of this writing, he has over 145 plays published by nine publishers.
So, if you are a fan of, say, tweedy old Agatha Christie, you’ll likely have some fun here, in a loopy roller-coaster ride of multiple what-ifs and preposterous scenarios, all accentuated by lots o’ guns and weaponry — but, this being a comedy, no gory blood to spill or spoil. What does emanate, however, is totally engrossing entertainment, superbly theatrical. And Director Jim Katapodis ratchets up the waggish melodrama from the outset, and keeps it churning right up to the big reveal.
The setting (Michael Corcoran is Scenic Designer) for this little intrigue is the living room of the estate of the late Bernard Pallfeather, a room which maintains a proud facade as if denying the ugly crime that may have just occurred. Four doors and two windows line the front inside living room wall and a set of stairs are adjacent on both sides of the room. A minimal assortment of a couch and chair, end table, a phone, a lamp and a throw rug function as central pieces.
L—R: Spencer Woolard, Dennis Hashin, Adriana Catanzarite, Kati Moore, Jared Rayment, Amber Toomey, Michael Corcoran, Robyn Couch, Kip Hogan, Jim Katapodis, Laura Lejuwaan, JD Rinde, Aaron Drapeylo, Nicole Kasprzyk
So, what's the scoop? As our play opens, Bernard, as we’ve found out, has just kicked the bucket. Or did someone kick it for him? With this crazy family, it's hard to tell. His daughter, Heather Pallfeather (played by Robyn Couch; “South Pacific,” “The Jury Room”), suspecting foul play, hires 30-something Jack Sparks (Jared Rayment; “Murder Runs in the Family” as Claude Purdy), a seedy, wise-cracking private eye who’s seen one too many late-night movies, to pose as her fiancée and do some investigation as the family gathers for the midnight reading of the will.
But which “will” will it be? The one substituted by the ex-con son-in-law Claude (Aaron Drapeylo; “Creed II”), who’s just a bit shady but so very well dressed? Or the one switched by crazy Aunt Zelda (Laura Lejuwaan; “A Nice Family Gathering”)? And then there's the big question: who’s killing everyone?
Even Montgomery, the elderly, quintessential butler (Michael Corcoran; “Geezers,” “You Can’t Take it With You”) is suspect, since he also packs heat and seems to know more than he's telling.
And, as matriarch of the family, Heather's own eccentric mother, Mirium (Kip Hogan; “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Arsenic and Old Lace”), who gets lost in her own house and absent-mindedly holds regular Pass & Review inspections for her staff (all of which have either been fired or quit long ago) has her own secrets to keep. Beloved and endearing matron, yes, but hilariously off-center as well, with a pistol up her sleeve too.
Mix that with Claude’s man-hungry, calculating wife, Patricia Purdy (Nicole Kasprzyk in her debut appearance), a missing, menacing, monotonic step-sister named Maxine (Spencer Woolard; “Tom Sawyer,” “Babes in Arms”) that shows up out of the blue looking for a fresh neck for lunch, a set of identical, interchangeable twins who are never seen together, pointing up Heather’s younger sister, Kathleen (Adriana Catanzarite; “An Inspector Calls,” “South Pacific”), and the arrival of disorganized family attorney Cleo Burdett (Kati Moore; “The Jury Room,” “Things My Mother Taught Me”), who suddenly finds herself in the middle of murderous machinations. Soon, the dead bodies start piling up like cordwood.
Mr. Rayment’s Jack (who clearly has fun in his role) does try to unravel just who is dispatching all the Pallfeathers, not to mention the offing of the western union messenger (Amber Toomey; understudy – Patricia Purdy) and the investigating police officer (Dennis Hashin), but he finds himself in a cuckoo's nest of suspects and spend all his time either getting flipped over the sofa by the long lost stepsister or getting lost in a really big closet. "This ain't a closet, it's a mall!" Not to mention the lights keep blowing in the midst of — what else? — a raging thunderstorm. It's enough to make Jack wish he had his old job back writing greeting cards.
All in all, “Murder Runs in the Family” is a capably amusing and entertaining farce reaching levels of delirium as Director Katapodis keeps the comedy crackling along like a brushfire. Can you guess who done it? Who knows? Does it matter? Not a whit. Just jump on the roller coaster, hold on, and enjoy the loopy ride. And you’ll see a dozen of the finest actors in Orange County at the top of their art. So don’t miss this rare treat.
The technical crew also includes JD Rinde as Assistant Director/Stage Manager, Eric Andrade as Prop Master, and Bob Nydegger as Lighting and Sound Designer.
“Murder Runs in the Family,” a comedy in two acts written by Pat Cook, playing August 6th — August 22nd, on-stage now at Westminster Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St, Westminster, CA 92683. Produced by special arrangement with Eldridge Publishing, Lancaster, PA 17604.
Tickets are $15 each. Although the WCP seats 122, they will be limiting shows to 50 guests for COVID safety reasons. Face masks will also be required for all audience members.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
All Photo Credits: Corrie Lejuwaan