CORPSE!By Gerald Moon
Directed by Andy Baldwin
Set Design and Lighting Design - Max Marquez
Sound Design - Andrea Allmond
Costume Design - Meredith Hinton
Properties Design/Scenic Artist - Jennye James
Stage Manager - Audri Arnold
Reviewed Performance: 10/29/2011
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Maybe a "whodunit" like Deathtrap draws your interest.
Anyone a fan of a Feydeau farce?
Then you've come to the right review and should deftly direct yourself to Theatre Arlington where you'll discover the hilarious and unpredictable thriller that is Corpse!
This brilliant comedy mystery by Gerald Moon has something to please just about everyone. There are plenty of laughs to go around and those who love to play amateur detective will find a plot worthy of the hunt.
Sworn to secrecy but "dying" to tell, I'll give you a hint in that Corpse! is set in 1936's London on the day of Edward VIII's abdication speech. There is a set of twin brothers, one of whom plots to kill the other with the aid of an amiable Irishman. And what would a mystery be without the proverbial nosy landlady to mess things up?
Moon's script was a tightly woven, non-stop piece of action. Lots of rapid fire exposition kept the audience alert to put all the puzzle pieces of who, what, when, where, why and how together.
First off, I gave a standing ovation to the work of Set Designer Max Marquez. Theatre Arlington had a small proscenium stage and so not lots of room with which to work or perform. In Rubik's Cube/Legos fashion, Marquez constructed a fabulous grungy basement flat complete with street landing and steps down, then turn-tabled it around on that tiny stage to reveal a 1930's modernistic home's foyer and sitting room.
That his set was even able to turn in that space was astonishing but both sets were detailed with closets, hallway entrances, lots of nooks and crannies to hide things, all accentuating the mystery. The actor brother Evelyn's flat was dark and grimy with cobwebs clinging to furniture, and ratty cloths hiding forbidden rooms. In stark contrast, the businessman brother Rupert's house was trim and clean-lined and lacked the lived-in look of the flat. An armchair, torchere lamp, and tall wooden radio console indicated the sitting area. The bar's cabinet doors disappeared into the walls with true Art Deco style.
Jennye James had great fun dressing the flat with props from Evelyn's past plays (been there, done that). Costume pieces, swords, poor Yorik's skull along with books, plays and pictures were scattered around. The house's bar wear could have been more upscale with better glasses and things such as the classic penguin shaker or ice bucket, but the highly stylish dial phone with large pick up ear and mouth piece was perfect to show off his wealth (actor note: don't
show the modern outlet clip at the end of the cord!).
Lighting, also by Max Marquez, was darkly appropriate for the flat but became a bit too bright when turned to the house's white-walled interior (which elicited a painful "ow" from the audience). The "gaslights" in the flat indicated the time period and added a bit of eeriness when lowered.
Meredith Hinton had her hands full keeping up with several costume changes that, frankly, I cannot describe in detail or risk giving it all away. Suffice to say, characters were shabby or elegantly dressed as need be and the 1930's were well represented. I giggled at the landlady's rolled down stockings to go with her cotton day dress and apron.
I delighted in Andrea Allmond's creative use of music throughout Corpse! The pre-show was light, eclectic synthesizer melodies but the intermission was more ominous to emphasize what we had just found out. The real fun came with the suspenseful background music played during long wordy expositions or sudden plot twists to heighten the mystery's revelations. Allmond's design elevated the play to film genre, like a Hitchcock thriller, and added another creative level to an already creative script.
Directing such a complexly timed play could be a complete blocking disaster, and while I would imagine there were times when Andy Baldwin wanted to pull his hair, from my viewpoint, the result was flawless in staging and amazing in execution.
A play of this caliper, with precision cues and razor-sharp timing, could never be accomplished well without actors who understood the importance of both, and more importantly, had the ability to pull it off. Four actors had the arduous task of keeping Corpse! alive and kicking (sorry about that). In the short time onstage but by no means a small role, Shane Roberie maintained the forthrightness of English bobby Hawkins. His was an integral part of the whodunit plot.
Landlady Mrs. McGee, played by Judy Keith, was the consummate snoop with a terribly lonely streak. Keith had well-honed, natural comedic timing, and even better, she knew how to build and garner each laugh from her lines, and took full advantage of them all, making her performance a delight.
Ben Phillips was Major Ambrose Powell, but his entrance reminded me of Hagrid from the Harry Potter films. Long hair pulled back with scraggly beard and torn coat, the Major had obviously fallen on hard times, and Phillips played the Irishman with the gift of gab and love of the drink to bumbling perfection. His accent was spot on and I marveled how Phillips' bear-like demeanor agilely maneuvered around the miniscule set's furniture and down the shallow entry steps of the house - whew!
Quite the physical opposite to Phillips, Jeff Swearingen must have been a contortionist in a former life he was so agile and flexible. Not giving anything away here, as it's in the script, he played both twins, Evelyn (that's Ee-velyn, not Eh-ve-lyn, for us Yanks) and Rupert Farrant. To play twins would be demanding and intricate enough, with quick costume changes and rapid blocking. But then there's their physicality, and any accents and speech inflections to tell them apart. Layer on the sinister nature of one towards the other, in true mystery fashion, and Swearingen surrendered a spectacular tour de force performance.
I walked into Theatre Arlington expecting another tired old Mousetrap mystery. I walked out in awe of this trifecta of talent ? a well-written script, inventive director and designers, and creative and experienced actors. Without all three in place this production of Corpse! would never have been the winning mystery gem it happily turned out to be.
Theatre Arlington, 305 West Main Street, Arlington, TX 76010
Play runs through November 13th
Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm.
Tickets are $19 for adults and $17 for students and seniors.
Group tickets of ten or more are $15.
To purchase tickets online, go to www.theatrearlington.org or call them at 817-261-9628 metro.