'Murder at the Prop Table' - My Review

There is murder in the wings at the Phoenix Stage

Murder at the Prop Table was written by founding Phoenix Stage Company partner Ed Bassett. Originally presented in 1997 at the Short and Neat Festival, it was later directed by Donna Storms in Thomaston. Last year this play was presented as a staged reading in NYC at The Planet Connections Festivity and was a big hit. This season Mr. Bassett decided to present a fully produced version of  his play for Naugatuck audiences and hopes that it will go on to publication.

The fast paced action takes place backstage at a theatre; the performance is going badly onstage (which we do not see, but can sometimes hear) but the show must go on, so the cast perseveres. Doors frequently slam, and one character enters at the exact same time as another exits. Entrances are missed, identities are mistaken, embraces are misinterpreted. There is lots of physical comedy, sight gags and lots of laughs. It all makes for a very funny show that moves at breakneck speed. And did I mention that gun shots, poison and murder are involved? Who knew that props could be so dangerous?

The director has put together a wonderful cast of local theatre people in this two-act farce. He has crisply directed them; I marveled at how they remembered where and when to exit, yet everyone was perfectly synched. This cast of six talented volunteers don't miss a beat.

As Alex, the always wonderful Chris Evans can say so much with just a look. Kate Samberg is adorable and naive as Jane the props mistress. Jim Buffone is nebbish-y as the playwright/actor Herbert. Heather Graham is the perfect leading lady Lynn, from her intentionally fake accent to her sultry moves. The cherubic Tim Cleary, last seen as Kris Kringle at Seven Angels, plays Hal, who appears as the cop and the maid (added at the last minute.) As the Stage Manager, Brian Elser wears his personal Phoenix Stage Crew t-shirt and rants as he stomps across the stage. It is the perfect part for this young man who often works behind the scenes.

The final "characters" in this show include the set that Mr. Bassett designed, constructed (with Lori Poulin and Claudia Duhamel,) and dressed (with Mrs. Poulin and Nancy Dodge.) It captured the essence of a backstage area, complete with the requisite prop table. I had a great time looking at the props scattered about and trying to figure out which PSC show they had been used in. Some of my favorites included the helmet with horns from Every Christmas Story Ever Told, the chalice from The Last Supper, the tree stump from The Adventures of Peter Cottontail and the labeled water bottles from just about every show ever. (I still have mine from The Last Supper.) The costumes were fun and sometimes matching, and the props (by Mr. Bassett, Mrs. Poulin and Mrs. Dodge) were even more important than usual.

Coming soon to the Phoenix is Sketch Comedy Weekend Feb. 15 and 16, Lisa Maria Lanno- Psychic Medium on April 6.

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