Cream City’s ‘Is Murder Tax deductible?’ shows good form

Officer Bartholomew (Mack Heath) interrogates suspects, from left, Melvin (Derek Jacobs), Carol (Rebecca Janny) and Barry (Al Van Lith). Officer Henry (Scott Tracy), right, guards the door.

Officer Bartholomew (Mack Heath) interrogates suspects, from left, Melvin (Derek Jacobs), Carol (Rebecca Janny) and Barry (Al Van Lith). Officer Henry (Scott Tracy), right, guards the door.



Katherine Beeson’s original play, “Is Murder Tax Deductible?” is being presented for the second time – after a several-year break -- and the whodunit with Agatha Christie roots has seen a transformation.

From its black and white film palette stage to its sharp and snazzy costumes, not to mention a fine cast, this show has a lot going for it.

While there are the usual clichés here – the no-nonsense cop, the office romance, the ditzy cleaning lady, the tough-sounding guy whose bait shop is a front for an illegal business – there’s enough meat on the story to make it interesting to chew on and enough humor to put it in the spoof category.

The first act moves along nicely in this show, set entirely in the outer office of accountants Dett and Merring during tax season in 1951. The cleaning lady, Helen (Marilyn Daleiden), has found a body in the office of Brian Merring. Daleiden has a ball with her character, who cleans with a wiggle in her rear and song on her lips (Daleiden has a lovely voice, by the way), much to the delight of the opening night audience. She turns snippy and sometimes hysterical (“I am not cleaning that up!”) when being interrogated by the unsmiling Detecive Batholomew (Mack Heath), adding good energy to those scenes.

While all indications are that it was Brian Merring that was killed in his office, we soon learn differently as the man officers think is Merring’s partner, Nathaniel Dett, shows up. Dett, it seems, has been using Merring’s larger office. The newcomer is, in fact, Merring himself, which creates all sorts of confusion and opportunities for one-liners. “I have a motive for murdering me?” Merring wonders. Scott Fudali’s Merring is a wonderful blend of apprehension and self-preservation as events at his office unfold.

Beeson has added a whole host of suspects. Bella (Joanna Langworthy), the secretary; Carol (Rebecca Janny), Merring’s ex-wife; Barry (Al Van Lith), the building’s owner; plus, a couple of the accounting firm’s clients, Harry (Ed Spencer), who owns a bait shop where he runs an illegal business, and Melvin, a meek cat owner. All performers own their characters nicely. I especially enjoyed Janny’s moll-like Carol, who struts about with an entitled air, yet melts to Spencer’s smarmy gangster’s advances. Langworthy’s performance is also notable, as she gives the secretary lots of authority and assurance. Heath as the detective keeps his hand steady on the keel as he navigates through some tricky scenes and loads of dialogue.

All the suspects are rounded up for the interrogation scene – a la Christie’s Detective Poirot. Beeson has inserted a clever device in which all the suspects think they are going to the accounting firm’s office to collect some money. When they all arrive, Batholomew has the opportunity to dissect each of the suspect’s stories as his expert detection and attention to detail help uncover the killer.

Speaking of attention to detail, it is exactly what Beeson has done with this show in its presentation, down to a gray scale American flag in the corner in keeping with the motif.  Costumes and ladies’ make-up added to the feel of the era that Beeson also highlighted in dialogue, as when Barry says to Bella, who refused his request for a date: “Your loss, toots!” Loved Janny’s look, especially her white and black fur jacket, as well as Langworthy’s Bella dresses – even stockings with seams! Music befitting a film noir also helped set the mood.

Act II bogged a little during the interrogation as Bartholomew strolled among the suspects with his findings. It would have helped to have more movement from the suspects, who could have been nervously pacing, confronting the detective, walking to a water cooler, etc., to keep the scene crisp.

There also were a few awkward pauses opening night and some line bobbles, but generally the scenes moved well.

If you go

Who: Cream City Theater

What: “Is Murder Tax Deductible?”

When: Through March 24

Where: Inspiration Studios, 1500 S. 73rd St., West Allis