By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
An early exchange in I Heard About Your Murder, a teasing title with its own built-in line of inquiry, is a tip-off about the mystery concoction to follow.
Irritated by efforts to smooth out the awkward wrinkles in an unwelcome encounter, one character snaps “we don’t have to make up things.” The pleasant, slightly perplexed, rejoinder is telling: “But I don’t want to tell the truth!”
Exactly. The plot of Stewart Lemoine’s amusingly curious and original new mystery/comedy divertissement, premiering in the Teatro La Quindicina summer season, is all about that: people who have their reasons, both initial and under spontaneous readjustment, for non- or partial disclosure.
Naturally, some of these people are related; secrets in varying states of repair are, as Canadian theatre wills us to believe, the ultimate family adhesive. I Heard About Your Murder goes to family central: it’s set in a family cabin remote enough to be outside cellular range but close enough to be accessible by car. The bourgeois family getaway is conjured to a T in Chantel Fortin’s two-level design, with lighting to match by Matthew Alan Currie.
And it all begins by referencing a classic farce set-up: a man in a business suit arrives mid-week with a briefcase and a bag of booze, shortly followed by the arrival of a bright young thing in high heels.
The former (Garett Ross) would be Howard Forrester, on an impromptu getaway to the Forrester cabin somewhere between Golden and Radium, B.C. Whoever she actually is, the latter (Kendra Connor) would clearly not be Mrs. Forrester. Mrs. Dodie Forrester (Jenny McKillop) will arrive soon too, on an impulse excursion of her own, accompanied by a younger woman (Patricia Cerra), who gazes around her with a mysteriously alert assessor’s eye.
But lying has to start immediately, mainly because the cabin is not, as Howard has anticipated, empty. The occupant (Mathew Hulshof) is not unknown to Howard, and just as far from delight at the reunion. “What the hell are you doing here?” demands Howard. “Do you have a key?”
Neither question, repeated with variations by assorted characters throughout the evening, is answered; oddly, answers seem not to be expected. Ah yes, there’s so much I could tell you, but you’ll get no further elucidation from me since pretty much everything I could tell you would be a spoiler and you’d be deeply resentful later.
Anyhow, what gives I Heard About Your Murder its appealingly off- centre sense of fun is the way it toys with our own assessments. Act I gets its meandering quality, as “guests” arrive at a family cabin and scramble for conventional social plausibility, isn’t one big mystery; it’s the accumulation of little, more innocuous mysteries. What we know is that every character, at every moment, wants fewer people in every scene than there demonstrably are, for reasons that aren’t exotic and would seem to sit far from the concept “murder.”
This escalates to include international intrigue in such a sneaky way you barely notice it’s happening. Lemoine seems to have forged his own link between the farce, the screwball, the murder mystery, and the family sitcom. The line that brings down the Act I curtain, and raises it after intermission, is a corker.
Indispensable to proceedings is a gallery of characters we get to know in Lemoine’s well-cast production. Ross, a veteran actor and Teatro newcomer whose eyebrows have reconfigured themselves into the international road sign for Panic Ahead, is a virtuoso on the keyboard that goes from melancholy to anxiety, with top notes of hysteria. McKillop is endearingly irritating as the dithery, endlessly voluble earth mother Dodie. As the bright, chirpy character from screwball comedies who complicates things mainly for the fun of it, Connor is a hoot.
Vincent Forcier as a passerby in an emergency, and Cerra as a cool, noncommittal professional dislodged from her usual calm into improvising lies she herself finds outlandish, turn in sharp intriguing performances.
The production’s funniest, and most mysterious, performance comes from Hulshof as the unsmiling grouch character, a Forrester relative, who says the least, answers in exasperated monosyllables if at all, and can never be backed into charm or cordiality.
It’s a ticklish business to create suspense while you’re trying to make people laugh. As its title would suggest, I Heard About Your Murder, is a playful experiment in disarming you with scenarios you feel you recognize, then escalating the stakes. What fun, of a summer night, to be tricked.
I Heard About Your Murder
Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina
Written and directed by: Stewart Lemoine
Starring: Jenny McKillop, Garett Ross, Patricia Cerra, Kendra Connor, Mathew Hulshof, Vincent Forcier
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: through July 29
Tickets: 780-433-3399, teatroq.com