The way theater lovers tell it’s August on Mount Desert Island is there’s a murder mystery playing at Acadia Repertory Theatre in Somesville.
This season’s offering is Peter Gordon’s “Murdered to Death,” a two-act play that’s both a spoof of and an homage to those English mysteries perfected by Agatha Christie. The show even has a character named Miss Maple, a slight alteration of Christie’s detective Miss Marple.
Set in the 1930s at the country house of Mildred, who is expecting guests, the plot of “Murdered to Death” hardly matters, but the fact that the first scene in the first act ends with shot and the thud of a body falling is all-important to what happens next.
Act One, Scene Two is when the real comedic action begins with the entrance of Inspector Pratt, played by Arthur Morison, and Constable Tompkins, portrayed by Jonathan Wells. Morison plays Pratt as an English Inspector Clouseau, the stumbling, bumbling French detective created by Peter Sellers in the “Pink Panther” films.
Morison is hysterical as Pratt, who calls his assistant Thompson instead of Tompkins and refers to Miss Maple as Miss Marbles. He also accuses a suspect of wanting to illuminate rather than eliminate the dead woman. Morison is delightful in the role and milks every laugh from the dialogue.
Keeping pace with him is Julie Ann Nevill as Miss Maple. Like Miss Marple, murder follows her wherever she goes, which tickles her and the audience.
Nevill creates a perfect foil verbally and physically for Morison’s Pratt. He is a short man of large gestures, stumbling feet and wrong conclusions. This tall, reed of a woman appears to be to the uptight, upright country English gossip but is the real detective in the house.
As in all great Christie mysteries, “Murdered to Death” has a retired military man. Michael Kissin portrays Colonel Charles Craddock with charm and aplomb. Kissin’s button-down performance is so spot on that Craddock could have been plucked from any B-movie about honor and the British Empire.
Acadia Rep’s interns are especially talented this year. Mary Paola as Mildred’s niece Dorothy, Hannah Kulus as guest Elisabeth Hartley-Trumpington and Jonathan Wells as Constable Tompkins keep up with and often out-act the more experienced professionals on stage.
Wells is a wonderful straight man for Morison and he perfectly captures the inexperienced copper whose instincts are nearly always right. The young actor must have been weaned on the Public Television show “Mystery!”
Frank Bachman as the tippling butler Bunting, Chloe Hatcher as Mildred the murdered homeowner and Mike Perlman as guest Pierre Marceau don’t give performances quite equal to their fellow actors. They most likely will improve over the run of the show, but during Tuesday’s opening night performance they still seemed to be struggling to remember their lines and grasping for their characters.
Director Cheryl Willis has been a mainstay at Acadia Rep since 2000. Born in England, she has a knack for wringing every drop of Britishness from the drawing room mysteries that traditionally close each season. She has successfully done that again with “Murdered to Death.” Theatergoers may giggle themselves to death on their drives home.
“Murdered to Death” will be performed Tuesdays through Sundays through Sept. 4 at Acadia Repertory Theatre at the Masonic Hall in Somesville on Mount Desert Island. For information, call 244-7260 or visit http://www.acadiarep.com.