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Little Theatre of Alexandria does justice to a whodunnit in ‘Design for Homicide’

Within the better DC area, a complete ecosystem of group theater exists and thrives largely exterior of the skilled and semi-pro sphere. They’ve their very own assist group that offers out annual WATCH Awards, with 30 member organizations. Many have loyal audiences, sturdy funding, good venues, and gifted artists. This can be information to some individuals.

There’s a tangible schism between the 2 worlds. I’ve labored with a whole bunch of non-Fairness DC-area actors who existed in numerous shades of the huge grey space of semi-professional theater, however only some who’ve really labored in area people theater. A few of these teams require membership charges, which is a line within the sand for some individuals (myself included). I be aware with some remorse that I can depend the variety of WATCH-eligible productions I’ve seen on a single hand, and I’m as culpable as any in sustaining this schism.

James Lorenzin (David) and Kathy Ohlhaber (Celia) in ‘Design for Homicide.’ Picture by Brian Knapp Pictures.

Little Theatre of Alexandria has been round for practically 90 years. They’ve had their very own constructing within the coronary heart of Outdated City for 60 years, which they personal outright: a luxurious 200-seat area that might be the envy of many small skilled corporations, particularly given the variety of venues which have disappeared up to now a number of years. They’ve a wholesome price range, excessive manufacturing values, a playbill full of adverts from native companies, a core of dedicated volunteers, and — judging from opening evening, not less than — a big and constant viewers. They’re maybe the quintessence of a profitable group theater.

That mentioned, there are some tropes that even the most effective group teams can’t shake. There’ll probably be variation, generally huge, in expertise and expertise. There’ll generally be some casting decisions that lead to some age-inappropriate relationships. Steadily along with the up to date musicals, previous chestnuts, comedies, and vacation materials, there’s a potboiler homicide thriller — typically Agatha Christie, often not — full with its personal subset of tropes, lots of which haven’t aged nicely.

And thus right here we’re on the opening evening of Little Theatre of Alexandria’s manufacturing of George Batson’s Design for Homicide, their season’s homicide thriller. Batson is an obscure, long-deceased playwright energetic within the ’40s and ’50s with a handful of short-run Broadway titles (this not amongst them) and some TV credit, however apparently with sufficient trade clout to get Tallulah Bankhead to play the lead. Design for Homicide is a reasonably well-structured exemplar of the style; even when no one will confuse it with Dame Agatha, it’s nonetheless within the catalog and will get mileage on group phases, and LTA does it ample justice to ship an intriguing evening out.

The widow Celia Granger (Kathy Ohlhaber in a poised and assured flip in Tallulah’s position) lives together with her moody artist/playboy son David (James Lorenzin) in an imposing home overlooking the higher reaches of the Hudson River in upstate New York. We meet them on the event of David’s engagement to a wealthy debutante — excellent news given their precarious funds — although he’s having a dalliance with the younger housemaid Kathy (Elizabeth Loyal), his muse for a probably scandalous portray that would break every thing.

Pete Leggett (Nora) and Frank Cooper (Brent) in ‘Design for Homicide.’ Picture by Brian Knapp Pictures.

When Kathy is run down by a automobile late that evening, there are numerous individuals in the home who’re instantly beneath scrutiny. The chauffeur Moreno (a campily sinister Denny Martinez-Barrera) is aware of secrets and techniques and exploits Celia for blackmail. Kathy’s substitute Nora (a spritely, vivacious Pete Leggett) arrives with suspicious promptness and an ambiguous backstory. Even Inspector Carlin (a gruffly efficient Brendan Chaney) might have ulterior motives.

In fact, there’s a darkish and stormy evening, the physique depend mounts, and there are accusations and recriminations, till the ultimate twist, which is sufficiently stunning to ship a late thrill. A number of of the pink herrings within the script may simply be lazy writing and deserted plot components. As I beforehand hinted, the huge variance in expertise impacts some key roles. It’s billed as a comedy homicide thriller, however aside from some campy components particular to the style, there’s not an overabundance of snickers, and numerous the motion is subsumed by expository writing; it appeared like probably the most thrilling, vibrant motion was occurring offstage, very often with characters we by no means meet.

Kathy Ohlhaber (Celia) and Patricia Spencer Smith (Mrs Hamilton) in ‘Design for Homicide.’ Picture by Brian Knapp Pictures.

Jessie Roberts directs effectively and retains the motion flowing, and Julie Fischer’s set design is sort of luxurious. Judy Welihan’s costuming is efficient, the lighting by Cleo Potter and Jay Stein is moody, and I appreciated the small print just like the rear-projected flames within the fire (by way of Jon Roberts, who additionally supplied sound design).

I lived strolling distance from LTA for a number of years whereas a working actor and by no means crossed the brink till this present, and I can’t assist however suppose that extra communication/crossover between the area’s group theaters and smaller skilled corporations — and their respective audiences — could be mutually useful.

Working Time: Roughly two hours quarter-hour with intermission.

Design for Homicide performs by means of November 5, 2022, at Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Road, Alexandria VA. For tickets ($24–$27), name (703) 683-0496 or go on-line. 

COVID Security: Little Theatre of Alexandria requires all individuals attending performances to put on a masks indoors.

Design for Homicide by George Batson
Directed by Jessie Roberts
Produced by Carol Strachan
Assistant producer: Hilary Adams



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