by Hugh Hunter
It seems that Stagecrafters has taken a shine to the works of American-born playwright Charles Marowitz. Ten years ago they presented “Sherlock’s Last Case,” and they are currently running “Clever Dick.”
In “Sherlock” Marowitz darkly spoofs Conan Doyle’s iconic heroes, turning Sherlock and Watson into ugly, psychologically sick characters. His target in “Clever Dick” is Agatha Christie. But the characters here are merely ludicrous, and “Clever Dick” comes across as a pleasantly wry send-up of the murder mystery genre.
The Colonel (Mike Gannon) lounges in his country mansion. But after taking a sip of his favorite wine, he drops dead from cyanide poisoning. As with Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” all house residents are suspects. But in this whodunit, discovering the killer takes a backseat to satirical humor.
Directed by Catherine Pappas, the show had me laughing all night. Her actors are perfectly comfortable in fusing themselves into their absurdist characters. Their facial expressions and stage movements are wonderfully comic, and they even look funny. (Costumes by Joan Blake, Janet Gilmore, Susan Mooers.)
Inspector Farcus (Robert D. Heath) and his chump sidekick (Eric Rupp) investigate. Farcus mentors Potts and tries to cure him of his working class “angst.” Together they face down the haughty aristocrats, and they view their suspects as dissolute.
Yet Farcus and Potts are right; one by one the kinky side of each suspect is uncovered. No one seems to care a whit about the murder as everyone is involved in some off-beat passion. Apart from its comic irony, when the killer does come to light, you do not care much either.
The widow, buxom Lady Calvarley (Neena Boyle), only grieves that her affair with Charles (Elliott Rotman) was more exciting when the Colonel was alive. Alan (Jim Broyles) is married to Berenice (cross-dressed Bob Mason). But Berenice couples all over the mansion with houseboy Harold (Drew Seltzer), while Alan likes to dress up as a woman and finds horse dung exciting.
Class antagonisms are equally rife. Harold is actually a disgruntled aristocrat who only masquerades as a houseboy and enjoys being whipped. Potts never does cure his working class angst, and maid Hannah (Marilyn Leah) does what a working girl has to do — and then some.
A highlight of the show is Heath’s performance as Inspector Farcus. With Agatha’s “Mousetrap” in mind, you wonder what Farcus is up to. All along he is a bluff and quirky upholder of the old moral order. His understated transformation is the play’s best satirical touch.
Playwright Marowitz died this year. He was an acerbic critic as well as a writer and director. His chopped-up productions of Shakespeare were especially controversial, and Marowitz had a curmudgeonly interest in smashing idols. Gay and entertaining “Clever Dick” may be as lighthearted as he ever got.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “Clever Dick” will run through Dec. 14. Reservations are available at 215-247-9913.