Updated: Mar 25, 2022
"Clean, cold, premeditated murder. The perfect murder. They think."
There’s no doubt about it. Charles Norbury was a nasty piece of work. And when Peter Marriott pointed a gun at him from no more than a few feet, pulled the trigger and sent a bullet plunging toward his chest—no one felt like shedding a tear.
Mrs. Anne Norbury, you see, wanted a divorce from her cruel, despicable husband so that she could marry bachelor Peter—a fine, clean-cut type fellow—but the calculating Mr. Norbury wasn’t willing to grant it at all. The only way left to them to gain their freedom then…was murder! Clean, cold, premeditated murder. The perfect murder. They think.
That then, is the opening gambit of William Fairchild’s highly entertaining two-act play, THE SOUND OF MURDER, rising from the vaults at Westminster Community Playhouse to delight fans of mystery since its debut over 30 years ago on the WCP stage. Directed by JD Rinde, and assisted by Jim Katapodis (also the producer), both members of the WCP board of directors, this “hidden gem” has been given new life by an exceptional cast and crew. Running through February 13th, THE SOUND OF MURDER is one of Fairchild’s lesser-known and even more obscure works, but really provides a powerful impact.
The play premiered in 1959 in London, starring Peter Cushing, but then, after a time, quietly disappeared from the stage. Despite this temporary setback, playwright William Fairchild remained a prolific writer who penned scores of well-received scripts for stage, screen, and television for over a half century. Educated at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, the brilliant author served as a naval officer during World War II, hence his direct knowledge and experience for many of his wartime films and plays. As a sideline, Fairchild wrote books on astrology for cats and dogs (a niche market), but also excelled as a director and actor before his death in 2000.
As a classic English mystery which twists, turns, and explodes with the unexpected, ala O’Henry, Poe, and Rod Serling, THE SOUND OF MURDER is not one of those unvarying whodunnits that leaves everyone guessing the wrong person as the murderer just before the show ends. It’s not a whodunnit at all really. We know already who did it. We even see the contemptuous Mr. Norbury launched into eternity right before our very eyes. No, this is a play with an ingenious and cleverly contrived plot that builds up to a most unusual and little anticipated climax. The audience is continually engrossed in the goings-on onstage, and their concentration is never allowed to waver.
Set in the 70’s, it’s before the time when divorce was readily acceptable by society. It was a tighter, simpler time. There were no cell phones, the landline phone numbers have just a few digits in them, and the operator connects them to the people they’re calling, rather than dialing themselves. They discuss making six thousand dollars a year as being wealthy, and wardrobes of the 1970’s are, although vintage, laughable today.
As the story begins, we’re introduced to Charles Norbury (Jeremy Krasovic), a rather mean-spirited but phenomenally successful author of children’s books. Although he claims to understand the way youngsters’ minds work, the sad fact is that Charles hates kids. His petty, often repulsive personality has set him apart from most of humanity, and only his loyal, man-hungry secretary seems to hold him in any kind of esteem.
In fact, Charles pretty much hates everybody, especially his frustrated wife Anne (Adriana Catanzarite), whom he disdains, mistreats, and even gets physical with on occasion. Anne has guiltily taken on a lover and wants a divorce, but would probably tolerate her role in life if only Charles would agree to have children. When the controlling writer refuses to divorce her (it would hurt book sales, he says), they decide to take matters into their own hands.
Yet, given his thoroughly unpleasant attitude towards paternity and kids, Anne’s response seems a no-brainer. Is it any wonder that she seeks affection from her faithful lover, Peter (Steven Vogel)?
Charles doesn’t seem to mind the liaison actually—until the couple decides they want to marry. That’s when the fur starts to fly. There seems to be only one way for the loving pair to be together now – and that is in a world where Charles Norbury doesn’t exist. But is there such a thing as…a perfect murder?
As Anne and Peter finally realize there is no future for them together as long as Charles is alive, they devise a devious, complicated, near-hysterical scheme. But before they are able to carry the murder out, Charles’ secretary, Miss Forbes (Jennifer Marks), shows up at the Norbury home to transcribe Charles’ latest work, and realizes he forgot to stop his tape recorder the last time he was taping. When she begins to listen to the tape, she becomes aware that Anne and Peter are conspiring together to get rid of her boss. Suddenly seeing the murder as a means to an end, Miss Forbes sets up her own scheme in a brew to get Peter for herself.
Before the deed is done, however, there is a visit by a most engaging character, Inspector Davidson (Rick Werblin). Reminiscent of Inspector Goole in “An Inspector Calls,” Davidson arrives ostensibly to check on an outdated gun license, although his main objective is to get a signed autograph on Charles’ latest books he recently bought for his grandchildren. This request obviously annoys Charles to no end, and, of course, the narcissistic Charles rudely refuses.
At this point it would be counterproductive to give away the whole plot. Needless to say, there are panic attacks, gunshots, shouting and cat-burglaring. Blackmail, limp bodies, evidence and plot twists. And all the characters of the play are famously brilliant and skillful in their roles.
At the center is Mr. Krasovic’s Charles Norbury, the odious writer of children’s books who hates children and played with sustained unctuous nastiness. From the very opening of the play, his portrayal of Charles Norbury as a cold, cruel and scheming sadist was delivered with a chilling menace and his mocking self-righteousness made me truly hate his character. Certainly, his Norbury is a candidate for homicidal treatment, in what must rate as one of Mr. Krasovic’s best performances. So complete is Mr. Krasovic’s grip on the role, in fact, that despite morality issues of their own, the audience is on the side of his wife and lover.
The unfortunate wife is played with well-rounded competence by Ms. Catanzarite, born of the fact that she is no stranger to this type of character, having starred in WCP’s former productions of “Murder Runs in the Family” and “An Inspector Calls.” In a number of difficult scenes, she maintains her overwrought tenseness at a perfect fever pitch.
As the lover, Mr. Vogel has all the requisite attributes of a star-crossed third wheel and has considerable bite at the climaxes, including some well-timed final thrusts of urgency at key moments, making this pleasing performance even better than written.
And Ms. Marks delivery as the scheming secretary provides a dual personality for her in the show, with at first a devoted, puppy-love for Peter Mariott, then becoming a strong, underhanded blackmailer who will go to any extent to trap the man she loves.
As for Mr. Werblin’s Inspector Davidson, he seems to have been lifted right out of the handbook of well-meaning but inept police inspector cliche's, adding a touch of humor to the story as a man who we seriously doubt could detect which end of a match was on fire. And, playing a constable with little to say and much less to do, Michael Marmont adds a touch more humor to the show with his portrayal of the ineffectual but loyal Officer Nash.
As thrillers go, this one is well plotted, compact and efficient with little that jars, and the compensations and the double twist of the ending is particularly surprising. The directors apparently know how to make the best use of the talent of the cast. Overall, a very enjoyable piece of theatre delivered with plenty of pace and some very excellent performances.
CAST: JEREMY KRASOVIC as Charles Norbury; ADRIANA CATANZARITE as Anne Norbury; STEVEN VOGEL as Peter Marriott; JENNIFER MARKS as Miss Forbes; RICK WERBLIN as Davidson; MICHAEL MARMONT as Officer Nash.
CREW: Director JD RINDE; Assistant Director JIM KATAPODIS; Stage Manager JESSICA WATSON; Producer JIM KATAPODIS; Set Design MICHAEL CORCORAN; Costume Design MARIA O’CONNOR AND CAST; Props PRISCILLA GONZALEZ AND CAST; Light and Sound Design BOB NYDEGGER; Technical ANDREW ORRIS.
The Westminster Community Playhouse presents "The Sound of Murder," a play by William Fairchild about love, crime and betrayal. Performances are weekends only, January 13th through February 13th. Approximately two hours with one intermission. Vaccination protocols are in place and subject to verification. Westminster Community Playhouse is located at 7272 Maple St, Westminster, CA 92683. Tickets available at the door, or can be purchased online at: wcpstage.com
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PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lejuwaan-Jagerman