A jealous husband, a mad scientist’s monster, poisioned martinis and blond curls with pearls are just a few of the classic elements encountered in this murder-mystery play that grasps the audience’s attention from the first stab to the last gasp.
The Parkside Players are performing Fred Carmichael’s “Done to Death” at the Grace Lutheran Church in Forest Hills.
Carmichael is a famous playwright from Vermont who has written more than 50 plays, most with a comedy-murder theme.
The play revolves around five stylistically different murder-mystery writers who have been challenged by their host, Jason Summers, to compile the ultimate story wherein reality meets fantasy.
The five washed-up novelists wrestle during the play with the problem of combining their classic styles into one television mystery series.
They bring the audience into a clever ruby heist one moment, and the next moment into the middle of a sexy love affair between a young girl and an aging con-man.
The audience giggled as the first couple, of two, graced the stage with their spot-on bickering and soap opera-alcoholic style.
The “Dick Tracey”-style couple, Whitney and Jessica Olive, are played by Mark Dunn and Bridget Bannec.Their sultry and exaggerated dramatic coversations are soon interrupted by Mildred Z. Maxwell, an elderly writer reminiscent of the Agatha Christie era — logical, organized and a self-proclaimed “timeless” novelist — played by Rosemary Innes.
The collaboration begins as the draconian tale expands with two more writers. One is Rodney Duckton, an infamous and recently resurfaced author of murder mysteries who goes back to the time of thrilling monsters and black-and-white film, played by Parkside Players veteran Richard Weyhausen.
The other is Brad Benedict, a young and slightly naive author from the James Bond school, played by Mike DeRosa.
This batch of murder-mystery writers begins to bond over their first assignment — to create a story revolving around jealousy.
The different generations of writers each relay their ideas for a suspenseful tale and begin to create five plays in one with the help of supporting actors Laura Cetti, Johnny Young, Frank Gentile and Susan Young.
Then the play begins to leak out into the audience by the command of Summers, who points out to the dismay of the writers that a crowd of people has been watching them the entire time.
They adapt quickly, engaging in plenty of audience interaction.
“Well, publicity will drive the series now, not scripts,” Summers said.
Soon the stage is transformed with lighting and backstage death-rattles as the audience falls silent.
Duckton’s story about a mad scientist who can’t convince the woman he loves to be with him is brought to life by strobing lights.
The stagehand creates the aura of a silent film and heightens the horror of the monster the scientist has created to kill “the ingenue.”
Each “damsel in distress” is played by Laura Cetti, a young actress who has proven her talents in more than 10 plays.
Cetti steals the show with her unmatchable wit, various accents and the versatility of her characters, from the 1920s dame to the con-woman guising herself as an air-headed housemaid.
As each writer gets his or her own chance to shine, Act One concludes with the “real-life” stabbing murder of the host.
Act Two brings on more twists than a J.J. Abrams series, with each character kicking the bucket one by one.
Accusations fly as a huge twist erupts from the stage, sending the crowd into a series of gasps.
“It’s like turning the last page of a mystery book and it saying: Guess who?” Jessica Olive declares from the stage, reconfirming that like the cast, the crowd is simultaneously solving this murder mystery.
Janet and Benny Tesoriero from Ozone Park enjoyed the play from the first row, where they said they couldn’t take their eyes off the action.
“It’s so nice to see something different,” Janet Tesoriero said. “I like that they include all the different eras of mystery that you don’t think of anymore.”
The Tesorieros and everyone else watched the last scene with bated breath.
The murderer is exposed and the cast is only slightly less shocked than the audience. A second later the crowd erupts into the loudest boom of laughter.
“This is the perfect murder mystery,” Maxwell said.
And she’s right.
‘Done to Death’
When: May 25-26 and June 1-2, 8 p.m., May 27, 2 p.m.
Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 103-15 Union Tpke., Forest Hills
Tickets: $14; seniors $12