The Pewter Plough Playhouse often gives audiences the opportunity to see plays that are out of the mainstream. It has done it again. “Audience with Murder” is a reviewer’s challenge. How do you explain it without ruining it for the audience?
The task of figuring it out as it goes along, with changing identities, twists and surprises, is what drives the play, making it clever and compelling. Director Sandy Bosworth describes its multi-layered style as being like a “Russian doll puzzle,” but it’s also a witty spoof of murder mysteries and touches on plays as diverse as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Hamlet.”
The play by Roger Leach and Colin Wakefield begins in the living room of Alan and Sue, where they are joined by Kelly and Dean to read a play that Sue has written. Alan, a teacher of theater, as well as a chauvinistic boor, makes fun of the play and, as he continues to drink, of his wife as well. The “reading” turns into an emotional free-for-all as he recognizes himself being parodied in the script and as his relationship with Kelly is revealed. The first act ends with two bodies on the stage.
This rather straightforward beginning is misleading. From then on, reality keeps changing and the audience is repeatedly surprised until the final twist. At some point, members of the audience realize that the challenge is recognizing what stage (pun intended) the story is in.
Tracy Mayfield makes himself an obnoxious bully as Alan, but in the second act he is a hoot as a flamingly gay theater director. Names also change later for Sharyn Young, who plays Sue, and Toni Young, who starts out as Kelly.
Both women are strong actors, and they develop characters that become more interesting as the play goes on. They play their roles with just the right tone of satire, probably thanks to director Bosworth. Craig Brooke as Dean wears a frightful wig in the first act, a hint that something unusual must be coming later. Indeed, he changes bad wigs as he changes identities.
This is play is fun — it is as though the playwrights are teasing the audience, so it becomes an interactive experience.
As usual at the Pewter Plough, the set, built by Arthur Van Rhyn, is elegant and functional, and the costumes define the characters well.
On opening night, it was a treat to see centenarian Jim (J.B.) Buckley, founder of the Pewter Plough, back in his front row seat and chatting afterward at the dessert reception.