|Jordan Wilgus ("Ken Steele") and Jean Christensen ("Gwen Hubbard")|
By Tina Arth
HART Theatre’s current production of Murder by Indecision goes way over the top to transform playwright Daniel O’Donnell’s often-clumsy Agatha Christie spoof into a worthwhile evening – and it actually works! First-time director Aaron Morrow confronts head-on the challenge of making the audience laugh when presented with a “parody” that is long on lame jokes and short on real wit. By allowing his actors free rein to play their thin roles to the hilt, he brings the audience in on the joke (much like the deliberate overacting in a melodrama), and the cast is rewarded with abundant laughs that mark a genuinely entertaining production.
The premise for Murder by Indecision has real promise – imagine an iconic writer like Agatha Christie struggling with writer’s block, working and reworking a script, while her characters act out the constantly evolving scenes in front of the audience. The tantalizing possibilities are lost in a sea of characters like author Agatha Crispy, agent Ruth Less, intrepid sleuth Miss Maple, and the evil industrialist Victor Greedly – the author’s choice of names alone telegraphs the futility of going for comic subtlety. While Murder by Indecision’s humor is extremely broad, and the cast large, the actors succeed in bringing diversity (and some moments of exquisite timing) to their individual roles.
Patti Hansen does a fine job of portraying the aging and desperate Agatha Crispy as she lies to her agent and chats with her only real friend, her trusted typewriter. However, the most memorable roles are the people who populate Crispy’s imagination and come to life on the stage. Inspector Dryfus (Michael David Allen) is thick, none too bright, but relentless – a nice foil for the quiet intelligence of Miss Maple (Phyllis Lang). The Greedly clan delivers some of the best performances – my favorites are the two children, Victoria (Karen Huckfeldt) and William (Nicholas Granato). Huckfeldt’s comic timing, combined with her dry delivery, bring real panache to the role of the impossible spoiled little rich girl. HART newcomer Granato has just the right touch as the disaffected young hipster, self-righteously rejecting the family’s materialism while quietly accepting the privileges of wealth. Leslie Inmon is clearly having fun taking the role of Victor’s wife Sophie up to and over the top, and the audience cannot help but respond to her evil enthusiasm as she stridently makes the most appallingly inappropriate demands.
Since the play Crispy is writing is a boilerplate whodunit, the rest of the cast fill a variety of the genre’s most beloved stereotypes. The role of Officer Bently, Dryfus’ assistant, was played on opening night by understudy Corinne Brock - who seemed so charmingly befuddled that she managed to make Dryfus look almost intelligent by comparison. Jordan Wilgus, as corporate whipping boy Ken Steele, gives a performance that is consistently and compellingly groveling (both literally and figuratively). The obligatory scheming secretary (Gwen Hubbard) is played by Jean Christenson with just the right touch of tightly wound iciness.
HART’s set, as usual, is detailed without being overdone. A simple riser at the side of the stage easily accommodates the scenes where Crispy is writing, eliminating the need for scene changes as the action shifts from the author to the characters of her imagination. Ray Hale and director Aaron Morrow’s lighting design complements these shifts by moving the audience’s attention as necessary.
Murder by Indecision is definitely not great art, but Morrow and his cast succeed in making it a family-friendly farce that asks only that we sit back and laugh. There are times (and this is definitely one!) when this is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Murder by Indecision is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through November 13th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays.