Players get away with flaws in intriguing murder-mystery
by marilyn jozwik
Published 6:05 p.m. CT April 24, 2017
It seems like I’ve seen “Getting Away with Murder,” West Allis Players latest offering, before.
The murder mystery’s co-writer is Stephen Sondheim, better known for musicals such as “Into the Woods” and “Gypsy.” George Furth collaborated with Sondheim on this show.
The show follows a familiar murder mystery path that authors like Agatha Christie have tread: a group of people assemble in a secure place and, during the course of an evening, someone is found – dead. Someone in the room did the evil deed. But who?
There is a decided twist for this show. The murderer is revealed near the end of Act I. Plus – and this is a real bonus – theatergoers get to vote on whether or not the killer gets away with it!
It is a novel approach, no doubt, but doesn’t make up for the fact that “Getting Away with Murder” is not up to the level of similar shows, such as Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”
“Getting Away with Murder,” directed by Katherine Beeson, takes place in New York City during a scheduled evening group therapy session. Seven people are seeing the same doctor for individual sessions on a Saturday, and return in the evening for the group encounter.
The first to arrive are Dossie (Liz Whitford) and Martin (Rick Loos). Dressed provocatively, she shamelessly flirts with Martin, a new patient, who gets there at the same time. One by one the other patients show up – Pamela (Avidalis Hurst), Vassili (Kieran Kane), Gregory (Scott Fudali), Dan (Art Carter) and June (Brenda Poppy). But there will be no therapy session this evening. The doctor it seems, is permanently indisposed.
Several times scenes in the doctor’s waiting room, the right side of the stage, darken and action turns to stage left. A screen indicates a date and time, which is several weeks before the meeting in the doctor’s waiting room. In those alternate scenes, we first see a young man (Aaron Roeseler) and a young woman (Amy Wickland) meet for the first time at, apparently, a bar. We see them in subsequent cutaways from the main action, dating. But then something goes terribly wrong, and we soon learn the ramifications of that incident.
The staging of this play is very important. Stage right must be in full view in order for the audience to see key action during the show, and thus the left side of the West Allis Central High School auditorium is blocked off.
In the show, the doctor’s building is old, rundown and soon to be demolished. In the hallway outside the waiting room is an old elevator, plus a shaft where another elevator once was, with yellow caution tape over it. It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what might happen there.
There are plenty of dramatic moments in the show – a couple of murder scenes, gunplay, tension-filled confrontations between patients as they try to sort the wheat from the chaff – even a stormy evening and human faces outside a window. The authors of the show definitely studied Murder Mysteries 101.
There is an interesting tie-in to the Seven Deadly Sins, as well as an ominous warning to NYC. Clever touches, but not enough to overcome the show’s inherent flaws, not the least of which are some thick, clumsy dialogue and distracting scene changes, particularly in the first act.
The cast does well with the less-than-stellar material. Most notable among the performers are Whitford, with her high-pitched Judy Holliday-type voice a perfect choice for the sexy Dossie and really fun to watch, and Fudali as Gregory, a greedy real estate developer. Fudali has the right, take-charge attitude for his scenes and conveys nicely the hysteria in the final dramatic scenes (although the finale is, perhaps, a little too drawn out).
Carter as a dishonored cop gives his role a good dose of gravity. Loos’ Martin has a good look and demeanor for his role as a government official, but the actor could have inserted more energy into his role.
As the gluttonous Russian, Vassili, Kane presents a serviceable accent and a rather annoying persona befitting his character. Hurst and Poppy handle their roles well.
Generally speaking, the cast could have conveyed more tension throughout the interrogations meant to find the killer. They tended to look somewhat disinterested.
There are also funny lines here, some poking fun at Manhattan. When someone brings up a recent rape, another responds, “This is New York. There’s always a West Side rapist.” When the big-bellied Vassili gets on the ground to pick up food he’s dropped, someone suggests helping him up, which is answered with, “You’ll need a forklift.” These, and other laugh lines, could be showcased better, although Whitford, especially, does a nice job presenting some humorous moments.
Fudali’s set works well for the show, especially the open look to the hallway elevator, shaft and restroom. Pat Breed Kaiser has done yeoman’s work with the lighting, which is quite tricky for this show and helps keep the scenes in place.
The show, which ran for 17 performances in 1996 on Broadway, proves that Sondheim made a good choice in sticking with his musicals.
If you go
Who: West Allis Players
What: “Getting Away with Murder”
When: 7:30 p.m. April 28 and 29, 2 p.m. April 30
Where: West Allis Central Auditorium, 8516 W. Lincoln Ave., West Allis
Info/Tickets: www.westallisplayers.org; 414-604-4900, ext. 5912