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The police-tape outline of a body in the lobby of the Lamb’s Players Theatre was a nice touch to get you in the mood for a mystery. The show opens with atmospheric lighting as a gentleman in an empty theater tinkers with the lighting box and changes the settings from red to blue to white and back again. Swirling piano melodies play in the background. The man is Alex Dennison (Robert Smyth, also the Director), playwright.
Soon Alex is joined by Ernie (Patrick J. Duffy) and Sally (Season Duffy) who are assisting Alex with set-up for his latest production: one that just happens to take place on the year anniversary of Alex’s fiancée’s untimely death.
The story unfolds through a series of flashbacks as Alex tells (and shows) Sally about the last day of his fiancée Monica Welles’ (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) life. Monica was a disillusioned (if fading) movie star who decided to make the switch to live theatre. Alex’s play was her shot at opening with a bang (sorry couldn’t resist) and keeping her career going.
But, after opening to mixed-reviews and a leak to the press about Monica’s and Alex’s upcoming marriage; Monica begins acting somewhat erratically. She asks Alex to let her have time alone after the opening night party. And then after a midnight call to Alex asking him to come over, she is found dead of an apparent suicide.
A year later, Alex is still not satisfied that the cause of death was ruled a suicide. Under a ruse, he gathers the friends and associates that were with him and Monica on the day of her death. Soon, possible motives for killing Monica are unfurled. And soon we are witnessing a play within a play.
Smyth portrays Alex cleverly and distinguished; the storyteller at the core of the mystery. Gilmour Smyth convincingly handles the role of Monica; as always, eloquent and likeable. Season Duffy earns respect as the quirky, adorable newbie assistant to Alex. Colleen Kollar and Jon Lorenz as Karen and Larry, an arguing ex-couple, exude the ex-syndrome: both snippy and funny. KB Mercer fashions her diva-esque producer Bella Lamb into treat to watch. Multi-tasking Patrick J. Duffy handles three “roles” (doubling as Stage Manager and Sound Producer) as a charming stage-assistant dismissed from the set-up by Alex.
There are no “sets” in this mystery; the dark, cavernous feel of an empty theater is somehow accomplished even inside the “shoebox” of Lamb’s Theatre. And the little space is used effectively, with actors entering and exiting via the audience or even the back door. It’s bare-bones all the way, but it’s done right and it totally evokes the sense of foreboding and mystery.
It should be mentioned that the Lamb’s has its own cast of resident actors and staff members, and it’s clear they are good at what they do. Actors compose original music; create sound design and direct performances. Actors are seen and recognized in different productions at Lamb’s Players, and it makes for a more interesting theater experience.
The twists in the story are clever and the dialogue is sharp and witty. But it would be criminal to reveal more about the story. You’ll have to watch it unfold for yourself.
“Rehearsal for Murder” plays at the Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado through May 21, 2006. For Info: Call (619) 437-6050.