Lesley Miller (Emma), Jerry Gietka (Howard), James McDaniel… (Bud Johnson, Baltimore…)
All murder mystery fans, whether casual observers or dedicated sleuths, will find much to ponder in Bowie Community Theatre's current offering of BBC writer/producer Edward Taylor's 1992 "Murder by Misadventure." They should also enjoy frequent chuckles while ferreting out clues.
This mystery comedy traces what happens when TV crime writers Howard Kent and Paul Riggs face the end of their 10-year working partnership after having achieved success, winning awards and earning high fees. Senior writer Kent has invested so well that he and his wife, Emma, now live in a luxury penthouse on the Sussex Coast. Having squandered his earnings on drinking and gambling, money-hungry idea man Riggs lives in a rundown London flat.
Kent announces that he wants to break the partnership that for Riggs is a lifeline. But Riggs knows a dark secret about Kent that he uses to hold the two locked together.
Riggs has been invited to stay at his partner's penthouse while Kent and his wife travel to the United States. Riggs is not altogether pleased with the accommodations: He finds its modern gadgetry too complicated and is made uncomfortable by the strange voices he hears in the night in this paradise. The penthouse was built on the site of ancient sacrificial stone, where black magic was practiced and from which these sounds may emanate.
As Riggs settles in, the partners discuss the perfect murder mystery as they develop the plot for their latest TV show.
Kent seizes on their concocted perfect murder to resolve his dilemma. Dissatisfied with the partnership, he conspires with Emma to dispose of Riggs. Before intermission, the couple seems well along in achieving the goal. Act 2 introduces Inspector Egan, who prevents things from going as smoothly as planned and interjects a series of bewildering, fast-paced complications.
In Bowie Community Theatre's production, experienced comedy and musical director Jack Degnan directs his first murder mystery. He tells us that he accepted the directing assignment "outside my comfort zone" after being drawn by its "long string of convoluted plot twists" that arrive eventually at "a very surprising" conclusion.
On opening night, I found the dialogue-heavy first act sometimes difficult to follow in part because of the British accents assumed by both actors — Jerry Gietka as Kent, and James McDaniel as Riggs. Although Act 1 should require concentration — so the audience can pick up all the clues — it nonetheless needed faster pacing.
With only three characters —Kent, his wife and Riggs — appearing in Act 1, we have some idea of motivations and who the killer might be. My sleuth daughter Joy had figured out some of what would be revealed in Act 2, but she could hardly anticipate the bizarre twists and turns waiting to trivialize any of our Act 1 annoyances.
In Act 2, the pace quickened, with a dizzying delivery of clues from actors Gietka and McDaniel, now fully in command as Kent and Riggs. Lesley Miller's portrayal of Emma Kent became more nuanced than the timid apprehensive wife we met in Act 1. The arrival of Inspector Egan, well played by George Tamerlani, quickened the pace even more.
Why is a coat apparently worn by Riggs' girlfriend, Valerie, on the penthouse balcony? Was Riggs in London? And was he really seen there with Kent? These are among the many clues that will eventually bring this mystery to a surprisingly appropriate conclusion.
Producer Estelle Miller lists in her program note the great dedication of her BCT "theatre family" who "worked and worked" to see this "production through to its fruition." As director Degnan says in his notes, "Many people worked through the holiday season," including producer Miller, set designer Dan Lavanga, stage manager John Nunemaker and "all-around helpmate" Joanne Bauer . He also lauds Bowie Playhouse technical staff Garrett Hyde, Pete Dursin, Al Chopey, and Walt Kleinfelder.
Together, they were responsible for creating a fabulous set where every awesome gadget functions on cue. A patio door locks only from inside the condo, where a golf bag is moved mysteriously, perhaps by an unseen poltergeist. Strange sounds disrupt action on cue and supplement plot vagaries with external threats of approaching storms.
Such high-level artistry illustrates why Bowie Community Theatre received nine nominations last week from WATCH (Washington Area Theatre Community Honors) for two productions: four for "Grace and Glorie" and five for "Sordid Lives." Winners will be announced March 11.
"Murder by Misadventure" runs weekends through Jan. 28 at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park off Route 3. Call the box office at 301-805-0219 to order tickets.