It’s two days before opening night and the much reviled leading lady has just been shot to death on stage during a rehearsal. Who’s responsible?
That’s the idea behind “Murder Takes the Stage,” the current attraction at Douglaston Community Theatre, running through May 26. It’s a play about a play.
The fun, of course, in any murder mystery is figuring out whodunit and, in that regard, this little-known play by James Reach is satisfying enough, providing a wide range of possibilities as to whom might have done in the self-centered diva. After all, practically everyone who has ever come in contact with Hazel Laverne seems to have reason to loathe her.
The scene of the murder is the bare stage of a barn that has been converted into a summer theater in a small village in New England. From the moment she arrives, Laverne, who feels her very appearance is beneath her, spews venomous barbs at everyone in sight. And when she is murdered, there are few tears.
Among the prime suspects is Drew Pelman, the author of the play within the play, whose hopes of a Broadway transfer are dashed by Laverne herself. Or could it have been Sara Farnham, the aging actress whose career was destroyed by Laverne years earlier? Or possibly Leo Truesdale, the theater owner who has an unusual fear of all firearms?
Interestingly, no one in the opening night audience, who was invited at intermission to guess the identity of the murderer, was able to do so. Only time will tell if future audiences will be able to figure it out.
Director Kevin Vincent is obviously a fan of this genre, and this play in particular, having mounted a previous production about 10 years ago. He also knows the material enough to wisely condense the play to two acts instead of the original three. And in this rendering, he has cast himself in the leading role of Bob Rayfield, an actor with an eye for the pretty ingenue Mitzi Bond, a student of true crime stories, played with enthusiasm by 16-year-old Jane Bella Kharkover.
Vincent’s finest moment comes near the end of the evening in an emotional encounter with the current lust of his life.
His real-life wife, Judy Vincent, turns in one of the sturdier performances of the evening, as Rayfield’s jealous sort-of fiancee.
At Friday night’s performance, Armand Catenaro was sometimes hesitant as the wealthy Truesdale, a role originally intended as a female character, but he should gain confidence throughout the run.
Jennifer DiMatteo seemed comfortable as the doomed actress. Keith Junas was a natural “live wire” of a publicist. And Tom Williams offered a fair share of down-home personality as a plain ol’ country sheriff who, at times, was reminiscent of a Tim Conway character on the old “Carol Burnett Show.”
Rounding out the ensemble cast are the underutilized Annette Daiell as Mitzi’s aunt, who has the unlikely name of Jane Bond; Robert Gold as the director; Marty Edelstein as the playwright; Sharon Levine as the aging actress; Michelle Elea Belio as Hazel’s abused secretary; and Eric Leeb as Hal Rush, an actor who has lost no love for Laverne.
‘Murder Takes the Stage’
When: May 25 at 8 p.m, and May 26 at 2 and 8 p.m.
Where: Zion Episcopal Church, 44th Ave. off of Douglaston Pkwy.
Tickets: $15; $13 for seniors and students