DEATH IS NO SMALL CHANGE
By Kurt Kleinmann (World Premiere)
Director: Susan Sergeant
Set Design: Clare Floyd DeVries
Costume Design: Aaron Patrick Turner
Lighting Design: Sam Nance
Props Design: John Harvey
Sound Design: Kurt Kleinmann
Set Construction: Dave Tenney
Production Stage Manager: Maggie Belanger
Assistant Stage Manager: Ben Schroth
Assistant Stage Manager: Samantha Rodriguez
Production Assistant: Blake Hametner
Assistant to the Sound Designer: Lowell Sergeant
Miranda Yarazelski: Catherine DuBord
Dr. Lionel Yarazelski: Mario Cabrera
Sebastian Rowitz: David Benn
Lt. Foster: Chad Cline
Dr. Edward Lane: Greg Pugh
Dr. Preston Wells: David Meglino
Muriel Busch: Leslie Patrick
Harry Hunsacker: Kurt Kleinmann
Nigel Grouse: Ben Bryant
Dr. Ella Bennett: Charissa Lee
Dr. Lily Carewe: Nancy Sherrard
Reviewed Performance 12/30/2010
Reviewed by Kristopher A. Harrison, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Pegasus Theatre celebrates its twenty-fifth season by producing yet another of its now famous "Black and White" plays. The plays, written by and starring Kurt Kleinmann, all feature the would-be actor turned would-be bumbling detective Harry Hunsacker, and all are set in the stylized world of 1930's-era black and white films. Death is No Small Change! have all the classic elements of an old film murder mystery. A (mad?) scientist and his fellow brain surgeons live and work on a private island. When detectives come to investigate a bizarre string of murders, a fierce storm forces them all to spend the night on the island, knowing that one among them is a murderer. Hunsacker is brought in to help (or hinder) the investigation, and the audience attempts to stay one-step ahead of Hunsacker and figure out the identity of murderer before s/he strikes again.
The design elements are the reason to go see Death is No Small Change! Pegasus's trademark "Black and White" production style attempts to recreate the look of old 1930's and 1940's films. And, after all these years, they certainly have perfected the process. Everything from the costumes, the scenery and even the actors' make-up (which I'm told takes two hours to put on and take off) are all done in shades of white, black and grey. They've done such a good job that by the end of the night when director Susan Sergeant came out on stage in a bright red dress, there was an audible reaction from the audience. Everyone had gotten so used to seeing only "black and white" that the burst of color made us realize just how effective the designers work had been.
Throughout the performance, the designers did an excellent job of creating a world that faithfully adhered to this vision. At times, you really felt like you were watching an old black and white movie. Kudos must be given especially to the lighting designer (Sam Nance) who was able to subtly create different moods without relying on color. Also, the set and prop designers (Clare Floyd DeVries and John Harvey, respectively) created a wonderful environment. The play is set entirely in the laboratory of Dr. Lionel Yarazelski, and the set was full of fun, 1930's-era scientific details?machines that looked as if they were pulled straight from the back lot of an old film studio.
In terms of the acting, there were some notable bright spots. Miranda, the daughter of Dr. Yarazelski, played by Catherine DuBord, did a fantastic job of fully living in to the style of the piece.
Her vocal work and her movements were perfectly reminiscent of the presentational style of acting that dominated film work from the pre-War era. In a play full of stereotyped characters, she was able to create a character that was intriguing and enjoyable to watch.
Some of the other actors who turned in solid performances, even though their characters were quite two-dimensional include Leslie Patrick as Muriel the maid who made the most of her role. And David Benn as Sebastian the stiff and creepy butler got consistent laughs with every entrance.
The lead characters handled their roles well too. Kurt Kleinmann could likely play Harry Hunsacker in his sleep at this point, but a twist in the plot showed off his acting ability in a different way. Chad Cline as Lt. Foster started off the night a bit flustered, but soon settled in to his role and turned in a solid, energetic performance.
Ben Bryant as Nigel Grouse, Hunsacker's assistant, showed off his strong comedic instincts and made me want to keep watching him. Mario Cabrera was perhaps the most creative, evoking real empathy even in the midst of the campy style. I'd enjoy seeing him tackle a meatier role.
Where this production suffers is in the pacing and the writing. Act I of the play does all the right things to set up the murder mystery well. Each character is placed under suspicion and the plot is knotted up tightly so that when Act II begins, we have all the possibilities of a really tense, farcical mystery on our hands. But the script simply fails to deliver in Act II. There are plenty of unnecessary moments written in, and the pacing is so painfully slow that when the climactic moment comes and the real killer is finally revealed, there is little payoff. The actors seem to enjoy some self-serving laughs, but they don't deliver them well enough for the audience to fully enjoy them. The result is that many of the jokes simply fell flat.
In the final analysis, this company is to be commended. They did such a good job of recreating the world of old films that the audience truly loses itself in the world of 1930's-era murder mystery films. However, what the script and the director fail to do is go beyond simply a Xerox copy of that style to give us also a fresh play that speaks to 2010. That being said, it is worth noting that, when the director asked the audience how many had seen a Harry Hunsacker black and white play before, about ninety percent raised their hands. I guess that whatever they are doing is working just fine. If you've never seen a black and white play, it is worth it, if only for the design elements.
Death is No Small Change! by Kurt Kleinmann runs at the Eisemann Center through January 23rd. Two hours long, with an intermission.
Tixs are on sale now through the Eisemann Center Ticket Office at 972-744-4650 or online at www.eisemanncenter.com
Check website for all dates, times, prices!