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Death by Design
a Comedy
by Rob Urbinati

COMPANY : Stage Door Players [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Stage Door Players [WEBSITE]
ID# 5024

SHOWING : January 27, 2017 - February 19, 2017



Set during a weekend in an English country manor in 1932, "Death by Design" answers the question of what would happen if Noel Coward were to pen an Agatha Christie murder mystery. A celebrated playwright and his actress wife flee to the countryside after a disastrous opening night, only to find themselves visited by various surprise guests, all with secrets – until one of them ends up being murdered. Solving the crime will be up to the feisty Irish maid with a macabre interest in homicide.

Director Suehyla El-Attar
Jack Chase Steven Anderson
Walter Daniel Burns
Sorel Kelly Criss
Bridgit Joanna Daniel
Alice Sarah Halicks
Edward Kevin Stillwell
Victoria Bryn Striepe
Eric Pat Young
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Design to Die For
by playgoer
Monday, January 30, 2017
Rob Urbinati’s "Death by Design" is a slightly odd mish-mash of English drawing room comedy, farce, and murder mystery. Act one introduces the characters in the play and, in a choreographed nighttime scene, shows the murder of one. Act two follows the interrogation of the suspects by the maid (Joanna Daniel), who has pretensions of being a sleuth. Everything is tied up neatly in the end, returning the play roundly to the realm of comedy.

The action takes place in the drawing room of an English country home, elegantly appointed through Chuck Welcome’s set architecture and Kathy Ellsworth’s props. There is a fireplace center stage, flanked by stairs to stage left and a window and hall to stage right. The entryway to the house appears far stage right and French doors to the garden are located far stage left. It’s an eminently workable design that accommodates all the action of the play.

Suehyla El-Attar has directed the show with verve and style, encouraging her actors to dive head-first into their roles and never come up for air. There’s just the right amount of broad acting and recognition of the audience to reflect the self-referential tone of the script. This is truly an ensemble effort, with nary a weak spot in the performances.

Joanna Daniel plays a maid whose motto seems to be "surly to bed, surly to rise." Kevin Stillwell and Kelly Criss play her employers, popular veteran playwright Edward Bennett and his wife Sorel, a popular leading lady. Popular, yes, but whose most recent effort has been slammed by the critics. They have arrived without prior notice. Guests arrive one by one in an equally unexpected manner, starting with a conservative politician (Daniel Burns) who isn’t the enticing diplomat Sorel thought she had invited. They are joined by an anarchist (Pat Young), then an interpretive dancer/painter/artiste (Bryn Striepe), and finally by a myopic, timid woman with a secret (Sarah Newby Halicks). Observing all the resulting mayhem is chauffeur Jack (Chase Steven Anderson), who has a few womanizing secrets of his own.

Dialect coach Joanna Daniel has done a good job of showing class and regional differences between characters, aided by Jim Alford’s somewhat exaggerated costume design (but not helped by George Deavours’ unattractive wigs). Rial Ellsworth sound design does a fine job of evoking the time period of 1932, and J.D. Williams’ lighting design features a beautiful streaming daylight effect through the French doors and an equally stunning nighttime effect through an invisible window stage right. The play is a joy to view and to listen to from start to finish.

Ms. El-Attar deserves tons of credit for whipping up this frothy confection into the consistently amusing entertainment that it is. The script isn’t the strongest of farces, but it provides just the framework needed to let sparklingly confident comic actors strut their stuff across the stage in service of the plot. It’s fairly thin material, but it shines with the sheen of Shantung silk. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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