By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
In Stewart Lemoine’s new murder mystery thriller comedy — a tricky theatrical category with precious few representatives — you’ll meet a married couple of Canuck urbanites with an idyllic rural retreat.
Little do Howard and Dodie Forrester know it, of course. But their spontaneous, and independent, arrivals at their B.C. cabin between Golden and Radium instigate the complications of I Heard About Your Murder, premiering Thursday in the ongoing Teatro La Quindicina summer season at the Varscona.
A proliferating nexus of unexpected guests, unravelling deceptions and scrambled secrets, orchestrated misapprehensions, and out-and-out lies ensues, says the playwright cheerfully over morning coffee. The man at the next table keeps his head down when he overhears this breezy summation.
It might explain why ‘murder mystery thriller comedies’ are not a dime a dozen in the theatrical repertoire. For starters, they require a certain fierce concentration to plot. Both in the writing and the acting, knowing how much to reveal, and when, … well, it’s intricate, to say the least. “This is not your Agatha Christie or Murder She Wrote,” says Lemoine with his misleadingly benign smile, over pre-rehearsal coffee. “Not that kind of body in the library.”
He is prepared to shed more light on the intricate byways of I Heard About Your Murder — in a mysterious sort of way. Of the drop-ins, “some (the Forresters) know, some they don’t know, some they pretend to know. Everyone there has an agenda; everybody has something to conceal.… Lies range from domestic to international. An unusual turn of events happens that needs to be investigated, but in the context of a fun trip to the cabin.”
In 35 seasons of comedies set in exotic locales like Venice and Zurich, Manhattan and L.A., Budapest and Buenos Aires (not to mention up the Amazon), it’s curious, and revealing, how often Lemoine has turned to apparently benign Canadian locales — for screwball escalations, comic mayhem, and even international intrigues. The national parks of Jasper and Waterton have figured prominently, for example (Mrs. Lindeman Proposes, A Rocky Night For His Nibs). So has the cafeteria in the downtown Winnipeg Eaton’s (Fever-Land). Lemoine’s 2013 comedy thriller Cause and Effect had international complications accelerating through a remarkably unremarkable strip of Edmonton retail real estate, the stunningly undistinguished Gateway Blvd. between 34th and 51st Avenues.
When it comes to “writing something mysterious about people investigating, seeking information and not having it” in a contemporary mystery, “it’s hard to do anywhere there’s wi-fi,” as Lemoine remarks. “You need a remote location.”
Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, as he points out, is set in an isolated country house; no cell phone reception is involved. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None happens on an island, “with the remake on a mountain you can only get to by cable car.”
Neither is contemporary, of course: “isolation and what it allows dramatically” is a delicate matter in the here and now. When there’s Google, investigation is a mere fingertip distraction. Which is why “the weekend getaway of I Heard About Your Murder isn’t set in downtown New York,” grins Lemoine.
B.C. is the remoteness of choice, mainly because Calgary-based actor Barbara Gates Wilson, a Teatro fave, and her artist husband have a cabin midway between Golden and Radium. Lemoine and Teatro artistic director Jeff Haslam have been guests there. “I always send her a birthday message, and she gets it several days late because there’s no email there,” says Lemoine. “They’re cut off from the normal channels of information.”
Not only is isolation a dramatic practicality, but there’s also “its value to people who want it, beyond (mere) tranquillity. What kind of people that, or will fight to have it?” Hmmm. Could that be people who are, as Lemoine puts it, “concealing, avoiding, lying?”
In writing the new play, the only production in the Teatro season set in contemporary time, Lemoine, who’s written both, has been struck by the parallels in structure between mystery thrillers and farce. In both, the infrastructure of high stakes, ever more teetery, is propped up by improvised lies and concealments.
The production, which he cast before he wrote the play, has a sextet of actors, mixing Teatro stars, like Jenny McKillop, Mathew Hulshof, Vincent Forcier and Kendra Connor with newcomers like Garett Ross and Patricia Cerra,
“In the general landscape of theatre now,” as Lemoine puts it, “six actors is a big cast. In contrast to many of his playwright colleagues, he thinks “it’s easier to write for more people. To have a plot that reflects … life. To (create) something fun involving misunderstanding and misconceptions with three actors is, well exhausting.”
His 2005 farce A Grand Time In The Rapids, with its etiquette columnist character reduced to panic, had only three actors, but four characters since twins were involved.
Teatro’s July slot has always been one of their biggest draws for audiences. Last summer’s revival of Cocktails at Pam’s was the best attended show in Teatro history.
“My philosophy,” laughs Lemoine, “is have something fun for July, the play equivalent of the book you take to the beach. A page turner!”
I Heard About Your Murder
Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina
Written and directed by: Stewart Lemoine
Starring: Jenny McKillop, Garett Ross, Mathew Hulshof, Kendra Connor, Vincent Forcier, Patricia Cerra
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: Thursday through July 29
Tickets: 780-433-3399, teatroq.com