Murder by Natural Causes
9/15-18, 22-25 and 29-10/2
Shows at 8 p.m.; Sun. matinees, 3 p.m.
$15-$18 (Thursday shows, $10)
Audiences beware: Gunshots will fire during Big Dawg Productions’ latest show. But what would one expect of a title like “Murder by Natural Causes”? Rat poison would be rather lackluster. A simple knock on the noggin’ would seem, well, like a gypped death. And passing quietly while sleeping? Where is the mystery in that?
Originally a teleplay—a drama adopted to television—in 1979, written by Richard Levinson and William Link, “Murder by Natural Causes” centers around a wife (Allison) who wants her husband (Arthur) to die. She proposes his final demise by simple measures: scaring him—literally, to death. Enlisting the help of a young actor, the story twists and turns, including Arthur’s uncanny mind-reading foresight and an ending said to add a “devilish new puzzle that will keep the audience on the edge of its collective seat,” according to Dramatic Publishing Company.
Directed by Pamela Grier, the show sticks with subtleties that bring its storytelling alive, which not only will intrigue the audience but wow them at the end. “Even though there are tons of great comedies, a good portion of them are predictable,” Grier says.
“With mysteries, you try to figure out what’s going to happen and, hopefully, get a few surprises along the way.”
Casting consists of Big Dawg’s artistic director, Ken Cressman, in the lead role of Arthur Sinclair, along with Tamica Katzmann as his wife, Allison. Brandon Leatherman, Elyse Rodriguez, Michael Sholar, Carol Pendergrast, Elizabeth Woodside and Nikki Thomas fill out supporting roles. Not only will the cast bring an air of allure to the show, thanks to their hard work in coloring the nuances in every side of their character, but they each fullfill their roles with highlights of humor.
“I’ve been really surprised at how many lines and situations have become somewhat funny,” Grier says. “Not laugh-out-loud funny like in most comedies, but more along the lines of just being kind of amusing. I think it adds something to the show and gives it more dimension.”
Grier says they have succeeded in “creating a casual, comfortable atmosphere around each other,” which helps the show’s suspense of disbelief—or belief, as the case may be. The jagged plot propels the show’s interest, but not in an obvious whodunnit sort of way. “The audience will think it’s very straightforward,” Grier says, “and they have it all figured out—up until the last 20 minutes or so.”
The complexity of the story makes it a delicate trial-and-error during rehearsals. The show’s mystery not only needs to engage but surprise. “We’ve been working on [the] build-up to each turning point so that [it isn’t] a choppy play,” Grier notes. “With shows like this, you have to make sure that the ups and downs flow smoothly . . . We’re trying to find subtle ways to make it to where the audience may not necessarily see [the end] coming. But if they’re paying close attention, they’ll remember ways we hinted at it.”
It’s a physically demanding show, for the actors, the director, the technical crew and staff—including Doug Dodson who designed and built the set, along with stage manager, KC, who found props and executed their use. They will open “Murder by Natural Causes” on Thursday, September 15th. The show runs through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m., at Cape Fear Playhouse. On the first Friday of the run, Big Dawg hosts a dinner theater, with meal provided by New York Pasta House at 6:30 p.m., served in front of the playhouse; the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40; otherwise, they’re $10 to $18.