"My God, she's dead, someone murdered her!" So ended the first act of Lezley Steele's mildly diverting murder mystery, Death Masque, by the Pulse Ensemble Theatre. What fun to see a whodunit again! Apart from Death Trap and Sleuth and an occasional production of the Mistress of Murder, Agatha Christie, such plays are very few and far between these days. For those who can suspend a great deal of belief and don't take life and themselves too seriously, it's like being on vacation by the sea and watching a summer stock production, which this production strongly suggested.
"The bitch is back," warns the stage manager, about "the Star," Samantha Jones (Christine Jones) - and she certainly is a bitch (think Bette Davis and Tallulah Bankhead). Returning from a drying out (drugs and booze) she is making a comeback in a play opening out of town prior to its Broadway opening. It's never fair to give away the plots of these plays (you might see them sometime), but this one, yet another about the tough, fading star and the ruthless, whimpering, simpering ingenue, also features the sympathetic Stage Manager (Brian Richardson), the arrogant faded Matinee Idol (Rick Forstmann), the ingratiating Director (Ed Crescimanni), the Ingenue (Kimberley Myles) and the tough New York Detective (Scott Geyer): stereotypes, you bet! The play did have a laugh or two, some suspenseful moments, a number of the obligatory twists and turns and surprises, and an ending that it's almost certain no one in the audience could have anticipated.
Directors Alexa Kelly and Carol Kastendieck moved the mystery along, although the playwright didn't help by delaying the murder until the end of Act One, following a much too lengthy exposition. It was a pity, too, that more use was not made of the coffin that was on stage throughout but used only in the opening scene. Christine Jones's star turn was assured and convincingly bitchy; Rick Forstman was appropriately egotistical and pompous, and Brian Richardson a sympathetic stage manager; but Kimberley Nyles frequently overdid the ingenue, and Scott Geyer seemed unsure in the role of the detective. Best work, though, was from Ed Crescimanni, who was the embodiment of the conniving, manipulative director. He was really convincing. The Green Room, as the program said, really did look like one in "a very old regional theatre" (Mikhail Garakanidzc); lighting was satisfactory (Herrick Goldman) and sound adequate (uncredited); costumes were fine (Liam O'Brien). All in all, it was fun.
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Copyright 1998 Dudley Stone