Not long into the first act of Ed Sala’s Bloody Murder (a deconstructed spoof of murder mysteries) the characters realize they are trapped in a Whodunnit narrative, doomed to participate in a ridiculous, disingenuous plot with lapses in logic, clichés and a derivative premise. The Wealthy Aunt, Playboy Nephew, Retired British Military Captain, Alcoholic Veteran Actor, Housekeeper, Foreign Countess, Ingénue, etc…..resolve to no longer do the author’s bidding and take an oath, to refrain from committing any murders. Despite their good intentions the bodies continue to fall, glaring errors in judgment persist. The remaining guests of the estate surmise the writer is actually among them, as his novels are always written in the first person.
It is not unusual for playwrights and screenwriters to send up the sort of murder mystery made popular by Agatha Christie (Three Blind Mice, Ten Little Indians, Murder on the Orient Express) in which all the participants are confined indefinitely to a particular place (mansion, island, train) and therefore at the mercy of some cunning killer. Anthony Shaffer’s Whodunnit?, Murder By Death, Clue, in one way or another they all honor and mock the familiar conventions we all know and recognize. Sala’s Bloody Murder is somewhat different, in the sense that he steps outside the fourth wall, and continues to test that boundary. Even though the characters are determined to no longer participate in the charade, the device perpetually moves forward, dragging them in like a black hole. It’s a tug-of-war. While they struggle to extricate themselves from their inane destiny, they can’t seem to outwit their creator. Perhaps it’s all a paradigm for mankind and our ability to shape our own future? Or rebel against God’s plans at our own peril? What if our Creator is a cheap hack, or worse, an American? (Sala takes full advantage of the effete British and their legendary disdain for The Yanks.)
Ed Sala dissects the murder mystery for the purpose of exposing its weaknesses and incongruities. He rejects a device, but also cleaves to it. Consider by contrast, a play like Waiting for Godot, in which the characters predicate their existence on the appearance of a man who never shows up. Each day Godot sends notice he will arrive the next day without fail, but we start to wonder if this imminent event will ever materialize. The difference in Beckett’s play is that none of the characters ever wakes up and says, “He’s not coming.” They continue to keep their lives in suspension till their expectations are (hopefully) fulfilled. In Bloody Murder, Sala breaks the spell. He challenges the genre to keep us guessing but then, keeps copping back to it. He exposes the man behind the curtain, but encourages us to root for him. While Beckett’s device never eclipses the actual experience of the play, with Sala, it feels like he’s keeping balls in the air to distract us. I’m not sure the components coalesce.
Bloody Murder is, nonetheless, a spirited romp with an engaging, effervescent cast. On the strength of their mischievousness and charm, they keep the material bouncy and amusing. There is a fair amount of double casting, and the giddy list of silly persona including : El Gato, Mr. Woo, Chief Inspector Frederick Phelps, an Irish Nun…keep the comedy octane high and light. It’s a delightful evening of entertainment, filled with grand shenanigans and lots of verve.
Starring : Dale G. Gutt, Stan Kelly, Ashley Markgraf, Carol M. Rice, Danielle Shirar, Walt Threlkeld. Directed by Lindsey Humphries.
Rover Dramawerks presents Bloody Murder, playing October 24th-November 16th, 2013. Cox Building Playhouse, 1517 Avenue H, Plano, Texas 75074. 972-849-0358. www.RoverDramawerks.com.