A MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED (Hedgerow): There’s something spooky backstage

David Nikolas as Maurice Mullinsin A MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED at Hedgerow Theatre. Photo by Ashley LaBonde
David Nikolas as Maurice Mullinsin A MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED at Hedgerow Theatre. Photo by Ashley LaBonde

Hedgerow Theatre has set the stage for a fabulously fun, old fashioned supernatural suspense-filled thriller. The 175 year old gristmill structure with it’s lovely bare stone walls provides a splendid backdrop for this spooky 1930s period play by Emlyn Williams, directed by former Hedgerow fellow Sarah Gafgen.

At 11p.m on Sir Charles Jasper’s (superbly played by Joel Guerrero) 40th birthday, he will inherit two  million pounds, unless he is not among the living, in which case his only surviving relative, Maurice Mullins (dashingly done by David Nikolas) will be the recipient.  A murder that occurred at the theater the previous week has left the theater vacant, and an unearthly prophecy revolving around specters past, present and possibly future, have everyone on edge.  Sir Charles, an avid fan of the occult and author of a  book on the topic, has decided to have a celebration party on the eclectically dressed deserted stage.  Guests are to come dressed up as “Ghosts of History”, but some say there’s something nasty in the backstage passages…

Though it is pretty clear who the target and the perpetrator are, false identities and loyalties, trysts, tricks and interfering in-laws keep up the intrigue as to how things will play out. It is the keen timing and excellent interaction of the cast, along with the lighting, staging, soundtrack and use of the theater space, that make this  production spellbinding.

Allison Bloechl and Brock Vickers inA MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED. Photo by Ashley LaBonde.
Allison Bloechl and Brock Vickers inA MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED. Photo by Ashley LaBonde.
The actors keep a perfect pace, both collectively and in their individual roles. Colleen Marker, the first to enter on stage as Sir Charles’s secretary Miss Groze, lends her character a hint of Hitchcock blonde; her exterior is ordered and prim, but her candlelit face reads “fear”—immediately obtaining the audience’s attention. Brock D. Vickers successfully parlays his character, the likable but fishy red-herring Jimmy North, from sinister to guileless, through a number of false identities.  Mrs. Wragg, a down-to-earth cook played with heart by Susan Dewey, provides comic relief and moments of tenderness towards Beatrice, the lovely young conflicted wife of Sir Charles, touchingly rendered by Allison Bloechl.  Beatrice’s beautiful but overbearing mother, Mrs. Arthur, wields the stage wonderfully as portrayed by longtime Hedgerow actor Susan Wefel. David Nikolas does dastardly well as Maurice Mullins, particularly during an expository speech on his credo of crime delivered in front of old fashioned footlights.  Sir Charles Jasper is charming but obsessed; these traits are expertly imbued by Joel Guerrero along with excellent facial expression and a marvelously mad laugh. The Occultist in red, channeled by Lily Dwoskin, is haunting.  This cast are key to keeping the suspense going.  After all, it’s going to be curtains for someone.

The set (Zoran Kovcic) within a set effect is a fun concept and well done, and the selected props and other interesting stage furnishings add to the dark and mysterious atmosphere.  Music and sound (Jared Reed) are employed with terrific effect to build mood. Lighting (Rusty Davenport) is skillfully used to transport ordinary features, accentuate corners, objects and facial expression, to create shadows, all of which assist in illuminating psychological phantoms and highlighting fright.  Costumes (Cathie Miglionico) complete the ambiance of the piece, especially in those donned for “The Ghosts of History” portion of the play.

A MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED may contain all the usual elements of a typical who-dunnit, but it’s spirit lies elsewhere. [Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Rose Valley, PA] February 19-March 29, 2015; hedgerowtheatre.org.

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