MOUNT AIRY — The move to Calvary United Methodist Church has been a boon to the Mount Airy Players, but, sadly, not enough of one.
Commenting on their production of "The Odd Couple" last year, I said, "One can only wonder what the quality of the Players' work would be if they had a permanent facility and were not in constant competition for treasured space."
The move and resulting accessibility to rehearsal and performancespace help make this year's opening production -- an obscure murder mystery by George Batson titled "Design For Murder" -- far superior technically to anything they have done recently.
Improved lighting and sound greatly support this production. The move from the barn-like gymnasium of Mount Airy Middle School to the more intimate hall in the church allows the audience to hear every word spoken on stage.
Set designer Mark Wichtendahl and his crew have created an attractive and believable environment for "Design For Murder," which takes place along the Upper Hudson River in the home of a wealthy widow.
Ifthe Players could find a way to improve on the poor sight lines resulting from the entire audience being on one level, they would be on firm theatrical ground.
Unfortunately, the rest of the production is not representative of their usual good work.
The script is formulaic, predictable and filled with characters who elicit little sympathy from an audience. That it was published at all is, no doubt, a result of the success of the touring company of 40 years ago with Tallulah Bankhead in the leading role.
Celia Granger (Nicole Lacroix) and her son David (Greg Dorsey) live far above their means in an elegant mansion. Celia struggles to maintain both the home and the illusionof affluence, with limited assistance from her son, who, though engaged to a wealthy but dull young socialite, is busy propositioning themaid.
The maid is murdered, and it appears that the annoying macho chauffeur may be the killer.
Other characters include the new maid, who has been hired to replace the victim, a housekeeper and two local matrons.
The detective assigned to the case is an energetic, self-made man who has some childhood connections to the lady of the house.
Each of the characters could be a suspect, and the plot works itself out with very little tension until the murderer's identity is uncovered.
Seven of the production's 10 actors are appearing with the Players for the first time, and the inexperience shows in poor character differentiation.
As written, the chief suspect possessesan obvious and ill-controlled temper. However, the actor damages theproduction beyond redemption by doing nothing to communicate this tohis audience.
Director Helen Simpson has done little to help thissituation.
Her characters enter, stand center-stage and talk. There is limited movement and gesture, almost no emotionalism, and little is done to build tempos and rhythms.
I wish I could report a production more consistent with the Mount Airy Players usual quality.
In this case, the selection of a weak script did not serve well the needs of beginning actors.
Perhaps the strong Tallulah Bankhead might have been able to make this play work.
It was Tallulah Bankhead who said, "There is less here than meets the eye."
It could easily be said about "Design For Murder."
The Mount Airy Players' production of "Design For Murder" will continue at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Calvary United Methodist Church. Dinner theater tickets are $15. Information: 829-0144.