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Corpse!

a Comedy/Thriller
CATEGORY :
by Gerard Moon

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3290

SHOWING : January 15, 2009 - February 08, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

It is time to curl up with another great wintertime thriller. Corpse! is set in London in 1936 and tells the story of twin brothers, one of whom plots to murder the other in the most unusual circumstances. Don’t miss the clever convention of one actor deftly portraying identical twins Evelyn and Rupert Farrant for both comedic and chilling effect.


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REVIEWS

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Lame!
by Dedalus
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
3.0
Gerald Moon’s “Corpse!” is a script best left rotting in a crypt. A supposed “Comedy-Thriller” (that is short on laughs and thrills), it is one of those convoluted crime plays in the tradition of “Sleuth” and “Deathtrap” that relies on deception of the audience to work. In this case, however, the twists and reverses can be seen too far ahead, and the plot itself depends far too much on the characters (and the audience) being unrealistically stupid.

On the other hand, Aurora Theatre has a cast and production team that is at the top of their game, and, if you’re willing to ignore plot holes broader than a Dublin accent, you may have good time.

It’s 1936, and England’s King Edward is about to abdicate to spend his life with the “woman he loves.” Evelyn Farrant is a down-on-his luck actor who wants to kill his twin brother, Rupert (he says). He enlists the services of a petty criminal, currently calling himself Major Ambrose Powell and sets up a Rube Goldberg plan that could never work and that anyone with an ounce of sense could see right through.

And that’s the main problem here. Scripts like “Sleuth” and “Deathtrap” work because the characters need to fool others on stage while they’re fooling us. They construct their elaborate plans because it’s in their nature to do so – the elaborateness is borne of who they are as much as (or more than) the playwright’s contrivance. And, their plots usually fail by eventually collapsing under their own intricacy. Here, though, the plan is pure contrivance – there’s no reason for its intricacy, no character-driven foundation for it, and, it is resolved only by a coincidental appearance of a minor character, who is, essentially, only on stage to resolve the plot.

Any time the “Identical Twin” plot device is brought out, you know what’s going to happen. Any time a gun with blanks is brought out, or, heaven forbid, “Curare” is discussed, the machinations become totally transparent. Any time a character has to be dead drunk to not see through a complication (which could have been blown by simply turning on a light), we’re checking our watches and hoping for the end.

An ironic twist on the whole shebang is that the play is written so that the twin brothers are played by the same actor, in this case, a nicely flamboyant Daniel May. That he has to be on stage with himself at a few points, that he has to fall behind the furniture as one brother only to reappear across the stage as another is testament to the production values of this play – director Susan Reid, and, I suppose, the backstage dressers and on-stage doubles, dazzle us with the agility of the conceit. That it is in the service of such a disappointing and transparently thrill-less thriller is, well, rather like constructing a murder plot that’s ill-motivated and pointlessly complicated.

The set looks marvelous, with Rupert’s expensive home dominating Stage Right and Evelyn’s shabby digs on Stage Left. If the Evelyn set looks too nicely furnished and clean for the character, well that can be forgiven. If the Rupert set has major design flaws (why isn’t a body outside the French Doors noticed by a character coming in the door right beside it – and why is a main entrance right beside a French Door – and just where does that automatically moving bar go when it’s not being used), well, like I said, it looks great.

If there’s one quibble about the production I could make, it would be the climactic swordfight. It was a bit lame, as if you could see the actors counting the choreographed “beats.” Both looked as if they were being far too careful to avoid actually hurting each other. I’m not sure if it was because they were uncomfortable with the swords, or if the fight choreographer neglected to design some “frenzy” into the action. Here was an opportunity for some thrills that just didn’t happen.

And the supporting cast is as good as Mr. May in the lead(s) – Don Finney’s Major Powell is all Irish bluster and confused stupefaction, Nita Hardy’s sot of a landlady is funny and charming, and Louis Gregory does journeyman work in the yeoman role of a convenient constable (and, I presume, Mr. May’s body double, but I have no proof of that).

Still and all, the true test of plots like this is the second viewing – can you enjoy the play as much if you know the plots and plans of the characters. In plays like “Sleuth” and “Deathtrap,” the answer is a resounding Yes (and I’ve seen both many times). Here, though, it would have to be a definite No (I was disappointed when I first read it twenty years ago, and I devoutly hope I never have to see it again). The comedy is non-existent – it’s at the Music Hall Man-in-Drag is funny in and of itself level (BTW, if it’s not inappropriate to say, Mr. May makes a very attractive woman) – and the few laughs are purely a result of the actors’ readings. The “reveals” come long after we’ve already figured them out (though I did overhear some audience members claiming surprise at one plot point, which I won’t reveal here). More damaging, the motivations for the murder plots (yes, there are more than one) are ill-defined and unconvincing.

And the blinis actually cooked onstage in Act One stink up the theatre worse than the ill-conceived story.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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