Hijinks, Hilarity, and Homicide in Death by Design at Live Theatre Workshop

by Vaune Suitt

Live Theater Workshop continues their mainstage productions with their fourth show of the season, Death by Design by Rob Urbinati. This brilliant comedy puts a spin on a typical murder mystery play and charms and surprises audience members until the end.

Death by Design cast

The cast of Death by Design. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Death by Design is set in 1932 on a country estate in England. The show revolves around a chaotic, kooky, and unconventional married couple, Edward, an aging playwright, and Sorel, a popular actress, who retreat to their countryside home after a failed opening night. Things begin to go awry, though, when Sorel invites a British politician over, and unexpected guests begin to appear. When a murder takes place, it is the job of all of the guests to figure out who committed the crime, with the help of the couple’s housemaid, Bridget, who tries to solve the crime on her own.

Death by Design

Rhonda Hallquist as Bridget and Johnathan Heras as Jack in Death by Design. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

For a play set in the 1930s, I expected the worst in terms of gender roles and representation of the female characters. Although the struggle for women’s rights in England was not as drawn out and grueling as in the United States, women in England still had to wait far too long before they were given the right to vote in 1918 and full suffrage in 1928. To my surprise, though, this cast of four women and four men all had creative and bold characters, especially the women. In a time where women answered to men, the female characters in this show do the exact opposite. Even though the gender ratio between male and women is equal in this play, the women shine from beginning to end. The play starts off with the Irish housemaid, Bridget, played by Rhonda Hallquist, charming the audience with her wit and hilarious defiance of her employers and their guests. This housemaid seems to give more orders than she takes and carries herself in a strong manner. She proves to be the most competent detective of the story. The couple, Edward and Sorel, played by Christopher Moseley and Missie Scheffman, are a hilarious married couple far from in love. In one of the first scenes we hear Edward and his chauffeur, Jack, played by Jonathan Heras, discussing how he pushed his wife down the stairs. This at first came as an upset, only to find that the wife brought it on in the first place. Scheffman’s Sorel is complex and funny, and is well played as a very glamorous and vain woman with a hankering for disaster.
The politician, Walter Pierce, played by Michael F. Woodson, feels very relevant for a character from a 1930s English play–a capitalist who accepts an invite from Sorel to her country estate to begin an affair. With how familiar this country is with rich politicians that cheat on their wives and take funding away from things that matter, this feels very current to 2018.
The couple and their houseworkers, along with their unexpected guests each carry their own distinct persona that captures the audience’s attention. I was very impressed with the cast members’ ability to carry their dialects throughout the show, which made it feel all the more realistic. Alongside the phenomenal cast of actors, Jason Jamerson’s set was colorful, detailed, and interesting, and made the play feel even more like a two hour trip to England. The actors used the small space they were given well and the direction by Roberto Guarjardo was very physical and lent itself well to the dialogue and comedic timing. The lighting by Richard Gremel, though it was simple, did not take away from the show and did a good job of adding mystery to the murder scene. Brian McElroy’s sound elements added to the play and were accurate and realistic. Being a first time audience member of Live Theater Workshop, I definitely plan on returning and seeing what more the company has to offer.
Death by Design runs through November 17 at Live Theater Workshop. Tickets are $15 for the general public and can be purchased online at livetheaterworkshop.org, by phone at 520-327-4242, or in person. Live Theater Workshop is located at 5317 E Speedway Blvd. Tucson, AZ 85712.

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