‘Murder’s in the Heir’ at Pec Playhouse.
By Sue Langenberg
Community theatre Pecatonica Playhouse Theatre presented comedic and unusual mystery “Murder in the Heir” in April to enthusiastic audiences. The “community” part of this theatre organization was born of determination and passion in the ’90s to continue the efforts and experience the performing arts in the area. Each year since, players and volunteers have gained momentum as well as invest in their home in this recycled building in the center of town. The energy moves on and so does the passion.
This show was about a murder mystery; we love them no matter what genre. The romantic element, money-driven motive and cast of characters always satisfy an energy that engages us for either two acts of suspense in the theatre or two hours of the small screen that follow the BMW cars to upscale houses. There is always money and motive to juice up the intrigue along with clapping storms and darkness.
PPT’s “Murder’s in the Heir,” production takes off right away to follow the money as the curtain opens on a drawing room set with lavish furnishings and mansion staff to dress the situation. The visuals are moneyed with a set of velveteen and silver as a backdrop to what might be wealth for an entire cast. All family and staff of the household seem to rub their palms as they mark the impending demise of wealthy Simon Starkweather. He may take his last breath, or may not. The situation will alter the fortunes of all but for the bizarre intention of the estate to be null and void by morning if Starkweather can be scientifically cloned to begin life all over.
Characters of this tense situation run the gamut of extremes that throw themselves at each other with humorous verve. More over, each has an equal motive for murder, as well as a handy weapon. The butler has a wrench to tweak the gas, the nurse has poison at her disposal in the IV drip, the handy man has an ax, there’s a fireplace poker waiting to be used, someone carries a gun for fun and, of course, there’s always the smooth-talking womanizer.
There was even a “director” character to come and go and interrupt scenes to provide necessary awkwardness to the whole situation, like a play within a play to mock the very idea of drawing room murders.
All of this provided the fodder for the first act. Intermission became part of the show quickly behind the scenes because the audience members voted for the likely murderer. The second act was therefore a mystery at each performance as the actors scrambled to resolve the script according to the tally of votes. This provided an excellent training ground for young performers.
The sleuth on hand, as in every murder mystery, was there to interrogate and unravel the events about who said what to whom and when. Second Act was a series of vignettes within a well-directed pool of light as each story against someone else was told. Someone was lying, and someone was not.
Director Oliver Simpson admits his first attempt at the daunting task of pulling all of this together. Indeed it is never easy to combine some fifteen members of the cast and bring storms, lighting and endless details to a smooth conclusion, especially when high school students already have full schedules.
Actors Olivia Bertelsen, Amanda Busby, Alexandria DeYoung, Laura Dougherty, David Lee Dunsmoor, Michelle Kleckler, Kaila Leonard, Brianna Mackenzie, Emilye Martin, Danny McCaslin, Dylan Nailor, Kiera Rodriguez, Austin Van Vleck, Silas Williams and Whitney Wilson with special note to Arnie Ames and Neal Ter Hark for lighting and sound effects made the show pull together.
Coming shows in PPT’s 2012 season include “To Kill a Mockingbird,” June 15-July 1; “Almost Heaven,” September 14-30 and “Greetings,” November 16-December 2. (815) 239-1210 or www.pecplayhouse.org.