FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – “Dial M for Murder,” “Wait Until Dark” and “Write Me a Murder” make up the trifecta of plays by a maestro of knotty plotting, Frederick Knott. “Write Me a Murder” is the least produced because elements are especially tricky to pull off – props and the timing of their use.
In the story, two fledgling writers team to concoct a situation for a murder to write about and then try to publish. They realize what they have come up with has become handy. They take the idea to the next step and go through a detailed process to murder someone for real – physically creating every step that requires each bit to be finely tuned.
Only a professional theater could be expected to put all the intricate pieces together well. Such as Peninsula Players Theatre. Which it does in its production of “Write Me a Murder.”
Continuing to July 24, the production contains the guts of a British murder saga – some arrogant characters, a classy residence, abrasive situations, swell clothing, and accents.
A signal of the story’s complexity is the music heard beforehand in the theater and on the grounds – jazz. There is a melody – a through-line – but dense notes surround it.
“Write Me a Murder” contains two wonderfully despicable snots who are easy to love to hate.
One is The Hon. Clive Rodingham (Sean Fortunato), whose “Honorable” in his title could be a wry joke by the author. Clive’s idea of ethics is me first, last, and always. His title and mantle as being the first son and heir are worn as ENTITLED. Clive is arrogant and pushy, manipulative and silver-tongued. The role is right down the alley for the versatile Sean Fortunato, an expert at suave, smooth physicality.
The other snot is Charles Sturrock, a hustler born on the outside of the lordly sorts who has clawed his way up to the point that he holds Clive by the financial throat. Along with taking over Clive’s historic abode and land and village, Charles intends to build a money-making domain of his own while pushing and shoving anybody in sight, including his wife, Julie. Having two really rotten guys in the story is a bonus. Ryan Hallahan gets bonus points for laying on Charles’ despicialities (made-up word) with an aura of perverse glee. Excellent.
So “Write Me a Murder” takes a lot of listening and looking – for the plotting and a multitude of visual elements, including the finery Julie wears from scene to scene.
The two snots are catalysts for action. At the center is The Hon. David Rodingham (Xavier Edward King), Clive’s trod-upon brother, and Julie Sturrock (Eva Nimmer), Charles’ bullied wife. The performances are sharp and vibrant, especially the conspiratorial part. David and Julie hit it off with their writing thing, which leads to affection. Charles notices the latter, which makes him behave even more badly.
There is a doctor in the house, too. Dr. Elizabeth Wooley (Charlotte Booker) weaves in as the family doctor who has been very much a part of the family, from the birth of Clive and David.
“Write Me a Murder” contains a surprise ending… to the first act. I stop there. The play is quite involving. Again, not many companies can, or will, touch it, especially with the expertise and touch of director Greg Vinkler at the helm with knowing collaborators at hand.
This and that:
+ The movable side walls of the theater are open for airflow as a consideration of COVID-19 concerns.
+ The play is from the era when smoking cigarettes on stage was normal. The smoking is feigned.
+ During scene changes – choreographed to a T – some dialogue is recorded, economizing the script.
+ The time of the story is that of rotary telephones.
+ A prime prop is a sundial outside of the manor, to the rear of the stage. The thing had to be built not only for the look but another necessity that will not be revealed here.
Running time: Two hours, eight minutes
Remaining performances: 8 p.m. July 7-9; 7:30 p.m. July 10; 8 p.m. July 12-16; 7:30 p.m. July 17; 8 p.m. July 19-23; 2 p.m. July 24
Creative: Playwright – Frederick Knott; director – Greg Vinkler; costume designer – Karin Simonson Kopishke; lighting designer – Simean Carpenter; scenic designer – Jack Magaw; sound designer – Joe Court; movement coordinator – Dan Klarer; scenic charge artist – Alice Bracken-Carroll; scenic artist – Katrion Hasanov; stage manager – Kaitlin Kitzmiller; assistant stage manager – Kimberly Ann McCann; production manager – Paul Cook; managing director – Brian Kelsey; artistic director – Linda Fortunato
Cast (in order of appearance)
The Hon. Clive Rodingham – Sean Fortunato
Dr. Elizabeth Woolley – Charlotte Booker
The Hon. David Rodingham – Xavier Edward King
Charles Sturrock – Ryan Hallahan
Julie Sturrock – Eva Nimmer
Mr. Tibbit, the Builder – Kai A. Ealy
Constable Hackett – Kai A. Ealy
NEXT: “Ripcord” by David Lindsay-Abaire, July 27-Aug. 14.
THE VENUE: The location of Peninsula Players Theatre’s Theatre in a Garden is about atmosphere – tall cedars and pines and shoreline vistas along the bay of Green Bay. The theater house is part of a campus that includes a workshop, office, rehearsal hall, dining hall, housing, and more at 4351 Peninsula Players Road. Flowers and other decorative foliage grace footpaths that weave through the grounds, which have been extended to the south. Driving along Peninsula Players Road and passing farms and trees, the thought may occur: “This theater is in an unusual place.” The 621-seat theater house features Door County limestone in its interior décor. When the weather is friendly, the wooden slats of the side walls are rolled open to the outside. For cool fall nights, the theater floor is equipped with radiant heating for comfort. While the company dates back 83 years, the theater building is of 2006 vintage. The playhouse and theater were built on the site of the previous structure, which got wobbly with age. The location on the shores of Green Bay provides playgoers with pre-show picnicking and viewing the sunset. Here’s a theatrical rarity: The Players’ website provides sunset times.