THE COLOR OF DEATHWritten by Kurt Kleinmann
Directed by Michael Serrecchia
Costume Design- Michael A. Robinson
Wig Design- Gary James
Scenic Design- Robert Winn
Lighting Design- Sam Nance
Sound Design- Kurt Kleinmann
Makeup Design: Leslie Patrick
Ben Bryant- Nigel Grouse
Chad Cline- Lt. Foster
Jared Culpepper- General Phelps
Bryan Douglas- Dr. Franz Beedlemann
Beth Gilvie- Frederika Schulmann
Chris Messersmith- Major Gerhard Salter
Alex Moore- Liesel
Scott Nixon- Harry Hunsacker
Gwen Pallas- Elie 1138
Leslie Patrick- Baroness Amanda Reiter
Elizabeth Piper- Brigit 515
Sheila D. Rose- Martina 1
Michael Speck- Professor Konrad Heisenberg
Brandon Whitlock- Dr. Leopold Teitlebaum
Stephaine Felton- The Lady in Red
Reviewed Performance: 1/5/2020
Reviewed by Brendon Ramsey, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The show begins with the opening credits of an old-school black & white film, followed by a short-filmed scene (directed by Mark Rouse) between Hunsacker, Lt. Foster, Grouse, and General Phelps (Jared Culpepper) that sets the film noir style of the show. This introduces the leads in a unique way that lays out the campy stylistic humor that lies in wait, while also providing an exposition of why the characters are traveling to Europe without bogging the showdown with lengthy set changes. This also paid further homage to the era of entertainment that is being honored by Pegasus and this series of shows.
Once the curtains rise, the true beauty of this nostalgic noir theme comes into play. A perfectly grayscale laboratory is unveiled, with not a single spec of the RGB spectrum to be seen. The set designed by Robert Winn was fairly simple in appearance, but so wonderfully intricate when you look deeper. Every inch screamed black and white horror, down to the staircase leading up to one of the three onstage doors. It was very reminiscent of the laboratory in the 1931 Frankenstein film. The creative perfection of this design is what made Act II’s set, which was drowning in reds and yellows, so jarring in comparison. The contrast between the two was over the top and served its purpose well, but it was very obvious that more time and attention to detail was poured into the monochrome set of Acts I and III.
The costume and makeup, done by Michael A. Robinson and Amanda Rodriguez, complimented the exceptional sets by perfectly matching the designs. In Acts, I and III, the grayscale design for each character was flawless. Not a bit of color could be found on the costumes, and it was all still perfectly period-appropriate. Each character had their unique style that still fit the black and white theme, which just goes to show that a dedicated costumer is capable of absolutely anything. The makeup, though, is what still has me baffled. Every visible inch of skin was a seamless gray, with the mouths of the actors even blacked out to make sure that not one detail broke ranks. The attention to detail applied by each designer here is truly remarkable, to say the very least. I cannot say much about Act 2 for fear of spoiling some major plot points for you, but I can certainly say the costumes and makeup for the three characters unique to this fifteen-minute section of the show are so outlandish and hilarious that I had to do a double-take. The contrast between these sections of the show is wildly entertaining.
The script by Kurt Kleinmann is, in all, very entertaining. A lot of the dialogue in the first and second acts didn’t flow quite as well as it could have but Act III picked up the slack in both humor and drama. Many of the jokes written into the dialogue were made up for by the actors themselves on stage. The funniest parts of the show are the ones that appeared to be unscripted.
The two true leads of the show, Hunsacker (Scott Nixon) and Graus (Ben Bryant) were genuinely two of the funniest performers I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Their dynamic was so wonderfully full of buddy-cop camp and cheese that I couldn’t help laughing, especially with Lt. Foster (Chad Cline) thrown into the mix. Foster’s disdain for Hunsacker provided countless comedic bits that kept the humor flowing throughout the show, even when it took more serious turns. These three have a very Three Stooges vibe, and I loved it.
For me, the biggest standouts in the cast were Frederika (Beth Gilvie) and Dr. Teitlebaum (Brandon Whitlock). Gilvie’s Frederika brought a sort of innocence to the show that provided a lot of fun and dynamic levels, especially when up against Ben Bryant’s Nigel Grouse. Their chemistry feels natural and incredibly sweet, even if Graus does attract the attention of… Well, pretty much every woman in the show. I was happy to see that the one true romantic thread in the show wasn’t too forced or awkward. Brandon Whitlock’s Dr. Teitlebaum stole the show entirely for me, though. His biting sarcasm and obvious villainous tendencies kept me laughing every time he was on stage, and Whitlock’s German accent felt smooth and relaxed from start to finish.
I have very little to gripe about with this show. The production was quite fun, and the chemistry between the performers didn’t leave really anything to be desired… So, it left me being a bit nit-picky with some things. There were several lines where actors audibly stumbled over their words, especially in the second act. There were also one or two awkward empty spaces where a line or two may have been dropped, but that’s going to happen on occasion. Quick wit and accents can be difficult to mix at times, so occasional small blunders can be forgivable. The only true critique I have was the tendency for lines to be rushed through. Comedic timing and keeping the pace is one thing, but when you rush through your lines in a German or Russian accent, you become unintelligible. If your audience can’t understand what you’re saying, your dialogue becomes pointless.
If you enjoy a good murder mystery or want a throwback to the days of film noir, I highly recommend you get your tickets to The Color of Death as soon as you can. This talented cast will keep you thoroughly entertained from start to finish. And hey, if you correctly guess the killer on the ballot in your program, you might even win a free show shirt! And who doesn’t want a free piece of theatre merch? Go get your laughs and catch a killer.
Charles W. Eismann Center, Richardson Texas
Runs through January 19, 2020
For ticket info, parking, prices, etc. go to www.eisemanncenter.com