D.O.A.

A gathering at the home of the Bennetts results in a murder and nobody is above suspicion.  Find out who done it in Death by Design which is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

This show has two things working against it.  The first is the pandemic.  Due to the surge in infections, the actors masked up for the performance which robbed them of their ability to use facial expressions.  The second is the script itself.

Not only is the story pretty weak with a lack of build, poor motivations for the murder, and an unsatisfactory denouement, but I think writing it in the vein of a 1930s sitting room drama hampered it even further.

Sitting room plays are exceedingly hard sells because the dialogue drives everything.  If the dialogue is sharp enough and the cast talented enough, it can be done.  Unfortunately, the dialogue of this show’s first act had all the snap, crackle, and pop of a soggy bowl of Rice Krispies.  Act II was a bit better as it focused on the investigation which made it a tad more gripping.

This story and lack of expressions would have buried a lesser cast, but it’s a tribute to the strength and talent of this show’s cast and director that they pulled out what they did given the circumstances.  Through the use of gestures and vocal animation, they managed to overcome the limitations of the masks.  They also managed to have colorful characters and inject a few jump scares which helped to make the tepid tale more palatable.

Jon Flower’s direction got everything it could out of this story.  He staged the show brilliantly.  The actors were always well placed as I could see all of them at any point and watch their reactions to the events bubbling around them.  I was also especially impressed with the murder scene at the end of Act I.  Easily the show’s best scene, it was chock full of tension as every suspect loomed over the body of the victim in almost total darkness masking the murderer and method of death.  Flower also led his cast to solid performances with nary a weak link among them.  That being said, accents were a bit of a mixed bag and some actors really needed to tighten the cue pickups.

This is truly an ensemble piece and each actor more than held up her or his end of the bargain.  Bill Bossman makes a fine Omaha debut as an arrogant hypocrite who hides his own moral shortcomings under a façade of moral superiority.  Nicki Sitler projects the needed vanity and vapidness of an ingenue actress.  Devon Moore is a suitable everyman as the chauffeur, Jack.  Adam Kerr has the youthful energy needed for an advocate for the workingman.  Charity Williams is a delightful, blubbering mess as the young mistress of Bossman’s Walter Pearce looking to escape from him once and for all.

Sarah Ebke is a delight as the maid, Bridgit.  Clearly the show’s smartest character, Ebke’s Bridgit actually becomes the show’s detective character and it’s well foreshadowed as Bridgit silently observes the shenanigans of the other characters as she tidies up the home, putting her in the ideal spot to unmask the killer.  Ebke is sharp and clever in the role and her energy really drove the show’s second act.

Chris Ebke does sterling work as Edward Bennett.  He utilizes a flawless British accent and has a slightly snooty, upper-class attitude and his “polite” sparring with his vain actress wife provided some needed levity in the show.  I also liked the ambiguous malevolence he gave the character.  From his first appearance, it’s clear he has ill intent for somebody, but who the identity of that somebody is the real question.

God bless Connie Lee.  Her appearance as Victoria Van Roth in latter half of Act I helped kick it out of the doldrums.  She definitely got the show’s most interesting character as her Van Roth lives in some outlier of reality where she translates her feelings into interpretive dance.  Lee masks her talent as a dancer with a series of ludicrous gyrations that made her look like an Egyptian hieroglyphic on crack, though her movements still had an ugly grace about them.

The show’s technical elements were outstanding.  Joey Lorincz continues to show why he’s one of the city’s best scenic designers with the elegant living room of the Bennetts with its striped walls and glass doors.  His lights were also of top quality, especially in the crucial murder scene where he left just enough light to see the silhouetted bodies of the actors.  Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes well suited the period with the traditional working gear of the maid and chauffeur to the lovely gown worn by Sorel Bennett to the dapper evening wear of the gentleman and the elegant, almost mystic wear of Lee’s Van Roth.

Though the story may try to pull them down, this cast and crew managed to pull it up to a higher level in spite of itself and I salute them for their efforts.

Death by Design plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 5.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $20 and can be reserved at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or by calling 402-291-1554.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

2 thoughts on “D.O.A.

  1. Abandsdaddy says:

    If I remember right, it was the pharmacist! And I thought I had gotten away with it! 

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