Ambitious theatre has always enthralled me. I still recall sitting in my high school theatre class listening to my teacher explain the technical underpinnings of the carnivorous plant Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors.” As my adolescent eyes brimmed with wonder, I imagined all of the astonishing feats that could be done with a bold director and a curious script in place.
In my recent memory of technical witchery, there’s been the professionally-created, 2,000-pound King Kong puppet with ten actors controlling it along with a fully computerized face. I’ve also witnessed versions of the aforementioned Audrey II in a community theatre setting as a simple hand puppet that the central actor wears. Regardless of the scale of the theatre that is creating technical special effects, I continue to find utter fascination in the art of this particular form of illusion. New Direction Community Theater’s (NDCT) latest production delves into this beloved art form with a delightful sense of humor.
Walking into this theatre to see a show is like walking into your parents’ home after a long time away: they welcome you in with lots of smiles and personally thank-you for coming afterwards.
This last Saturday night, I was invited back to NDCT to witness the finished product of their show “The Murder Room,” a farce that I previewed last month. If you would like a brief summary of the show’s plot and my thoughts on the first act, please visit my “A Quick 5” article that I wrote about them recently here. For the sake of this review, I will be focusing on my experience from this last Saturday, and not on my experience of the press event that I attended in September.
For your ease of reference (and so you don’t have to open up another tab in your browser. I see you, and I know you don’t feel like doing it), here’s a quick synopsis of the show: there is a very newly married couple named Edgar and Mavis Hollister who seems to be a bit at odds with each other. Mavis had decided that she would like Edgar to be dead so that she can take his money and run off with her lover. After two attempts at murdering him, she believes that she has finally succeeded. However, the police inspector and Edgar’s adult daughter are now sniffing around about Edgar missing and, come to find out, the shots that she fired into him were blanks! You might think I just gave away the plotline, but think again. All I’ve given you is the launching pad from which this hilarious farce takes off.
I believe where this show truly shines is in its elaborate set that is full of wonderful detail that helps to flesh out the story. It appears to be a rather simple living room set at first glance, but with further examination, it becomes abundantly clear that there are hidden intricacies to it. This set is full of special doors and all other matters of special effects. The specific books chosen for the bookcase help to tell the story of some of the main characters and immediately envelopes you in the British world that this play is set in. One specific set-piece that had me chuckling to myself was a very professional-looking knick-knack on a shelf that was in all actuality a Darth Vader helmet. I adore little tongue-in-cheek touches like that. My compliments to the director Keith Mervine and the stage manager Cara Brzozowski for facilitating such an immersive set design.
Two actors that I found to be of particular note during last Saturday’s performance were Rick Brown as Barry Draper and Emma Ansell as Susan Hollister. The two play opposite each other as fiancés and had a really natural chemistry that I found rather believable. Some of the interchanges that Brown had with Didi Olney (playing the devilishly wicked Mavis Hollister) had me laughing out loud in my seat. Brown gives a spot-on Texan accent with excellent physical comedic timing. Ansell really became the character of Susan with her expertly done vocal rhythm/speed. I really enjoyed the clueless exuberance that she imbued Susan with.
At this point, friends, you’re probably wondering who I would recommend this show for. Where I believe this particular theatre company really excelled during Saturday’s performance was how it was custom made for the person that has always wanted to experience live theatre but never has because of the pretense that theatre tends to typically create. A night out at the theatre usually entails dressing up in some uncomfortable getup and then having to follow a ridiculously long list of theatre etiquette that is about enough to make anyone want to faint from exhaustion.
This production is one for the common person who wants to wear their jeans and a t-shirt to just go and have a good laugh for a few hours. Walking into this theatre to see a show is like walking into your parents’ home after a long time away: they welcome you in with lots of smiles and personally thank-you for coming afterward. If this sounds up your alley, then I would definitely recommend going to see this show. After all, sometimes you just need a good laugh.
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours with two 10-minute intermissions.
Advisory: This show contains a few minor curse words and a comedic look at murder. Honestly, nothing overtly scandalous here.
“The Murder Room” will be playing at the Long Beach Community Center through Saturday, October 12th. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website here.