I love a mystery, and I also love seeing theatre at unfamiliar venues. This weekend I was able to combine the two when I drove around forty-five minutes south of Columbus to Circleville to attend my first Roundtown Players production, Audition for Murder, in cozy Memorial Hall on East Main Street. I never know just what I’m going to find when I attend a show at a new place, but I’m happy to report that the experience was worth the drive.
Audition for Murder, written by Howard Voland and Keith McGregor, begins with a murder just before open auditions start for a community theatre in the dead of winter. Grace and Doris, two dotty older ladies, are passing through on their way to town when they accidentally veer into a ditch. They stumble upon a quirky cast in the middle of a family rivalry to inherit money from a rich relative’s estate. It’s a regular whodunit, but one filled with humor that is acted out on a mostly bare stage.
The play is pretty corny, but it’s an enjoyable kind of corny suitable for the whole family. The murders (yep, there are a few) aren’t shown graphically, and there is a cartoonish quality to the characters and situations that help keep everything on the right side of taste. I rolled my eyes at some of the humor, but I laughed out loud at some of it too; I wasn’t alone, as the audience sounded entertained to me.
Director Jenny Rhoads maintains a light approach throughout, even using some perfectly timed bits of prerecorded scoring and sound effects to supplement moments for comic effect. The skill level of the performers is quite varied, but Ms. Rhoads makes sure that they work together to serve the story. She makes sure each character is distinct and their relationship to each other is clear, a basic tenant of storytelling that many bigger companies and productions overlook. There are the occasional flubbed lines and that telltale start-stop-repeat anomaly with line readings signaling inexperience or nerves, but the play takes place at auditions for a community theatre production! What could be a more perfect setting for a lot of hams (and I mean that affectionately) to gather? There are a few performers that express vocal tones ranging from A to A, which makes it tough to suspend disbelief at times, but somehow it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the performance to a detrimental degree. By and large the performers were fairly consistent in their approach and style, which is better than if some people are great and others terrible.
Peter Graybeal as the hopelessly dense Rory is a standout in the cast. Mr. Graybeal has the most physical part, often running across the stage and up and down the aisles of the theatre, and he also has some bits of physical comedy that are far more difficult to pull off than it probably seems, and his voice is strong and carries. His dimwitted portrayal of Rory sure doesn’t paint a pleasant picture of law enforcement in that town, which is all the more reason for Grace (Laura Aume, echoing a second cousin twice removed to Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher) and Grace (Randi Morgan, who milks many of the best comedic moments in the play for all they are worth) to step in and solve the crime. “Murder, She Wrote” it ain’t, and thank goodness for that; this is a lot more fun.
And as for the crime, I have to admit I fell for one of the red herrings in the plot; I didn’t finger the killer, but I’m also not so sure the play is entirely fair as that goes anyhow. Still, it might be fun to attend with friends and compare notes and place bets at intermission as to the identity of the murderer, provided the character you wager on survives to the end (mine didn’t).
The biggest takeaway I got from attending the Roundtown Players production of Audition for Murder is a sense of the infectious joy of performing that community theatre can foster. The cast worked together to tell an engaging and humorous story, and in that they succeeded – what more is needed for a light diversion? I wouldn’t advise any of them prepare their Academy Award speeches just yet, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have some time in the spotlight, especially if they are there for the right reasons: to entertain.
**/ out of ****
Audition for Murder continues through to October 10th at Memorial Hall located at 165 East Main Street in downtown Circleville (about forty-five minutes south of Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.roundtownplayers.com