If further evidence was needed that film incentives are a deeply important topic locally, Chelsea Deaner and Ryan P.C. Trimble’s “Murder at the Country Club,” currently playing at TheatreNOW, answers the question. Yes, film incentives could be a motivation for murder.
“Murder at the Country Club” essentially parodies dinner theatre and features a series of inside jokes about Wilmington. If you love living here, you will adore this show.
The country club is sponsoring the annual Gardenia Gala or “Palooza” depending upon who you are talking to. Apparently it has been a gala for 115 years, as Mrs. Blevins (Sarah Parsons) will be quick to divulge. But this year the gala committee is headed by Arnold Seltzman (Josh Browner), grandson of a former gala chairman. He has decided to give the festival some pizzazz and rename it a “Palooza.” He has some other ideas, too, like serving healthy food that the chef (Tony Choufani) finds less-than amusing.
When native-son-turned-Hollywood-success-story Chris Jamison (Luke Robbins) returns to town. he announces the filming of his TV show, “Rebecca’s River,” and things get heated. Seltzman proclaims he can help Jamison make a better deal for filming in Atlanta—a place where the film incentive package is in full-force (sound familiar?).
Seltzman clearly has made a lot of enemies in a short time. So it comes as no surprise when he turns up dead. It seems even the officer Kitty Kitty (Aerial Fowle), who’s investigating the case, had reason to hate him. Not to mention, Sletzman committed the most grievous of sins: angering a reporter. He promised Carly Clarington (Kire’ Ann Stenson) an exclusive story and then gave the interview to another reporter.
In the midst of it all, the only technically enabled person (or for that matter common-sense-enabled person), Ace Miller (Mickey Johnson), tries to hold the gala together and solve the murder. It’s a tough life being young and smart. Johnson milks all the teenage angst her part calls for, and it’s hard not to laugh, roll your eyes, and pity her all at the same time. We’ve all been there; we’ve all endured those who are currently there.
Though the motives sound minor and easily resolved, to those who feel the impact of film incentives, the anger is all-consuming. Perhaps that’s the underlying message of Deaner and Trimble’s script: The things we laugh off and joke about, like the Azalea Festival and “Dawson’s Creek,” are deeply important to others.
The forkful of cheese and vegetable puff pastry, provides a fabulous burst of salty olive flavor from the tapenade (and complemented by the tomato sauce). Like the light and flaky structure provided to fill the dense, creamy cheese and vegetable inside, a mirror balancing act among characters takes place onstage. Parsons’ takes the biting edge off of angry, aging Southern belles and nasty socialites thanks to her hysterical levels in her rendering of Mrs. Blevins. (Think Ouiser from “Steel Magnolias” meets Kathy Morningside from “Miss Congeniality.”)
Jealousy, in some form or another, seems to be motivating most of the characters onstage. Officer Kitty Kitty wants to be taken seriously as one of “the guys,” and Fowle delivers her as someone beyond inept and overzealous in her shortcomings. Overstepping the boundaries would not begin to describe her problems—if only she wasn’t being watched by a desperate investigative reporter whose career was going nowhere.
As well, the casting of Luke Robbins, pitted against Stenson, provides a lot of entertainment as they play off each other. Robbins, tall and skinny, towers over Stenson as he mocks her mercilessly. But she gives it back tenfold. The struggles of a young reporter destined for better things rings true throughout the script. I imagine this character is drawn from Trimble’s time in the newsroom at WECT.
Though TheatreNOW exhibits pretty extensive technical capabilities, “Murder at the Country Club” relies on one set: the banner for the gala/palooza, beautiful flowers by Dagmar’s Designs, and a podium for the speeches. It’s a lovely nod to the dreadfully tasteful simplicity of country clubs, but with much better food.
For a fully rounded evening, during the intermissions hilarious golf shorts by TightLies.TV entertain onscreen. Made locally, they follow the terrible exploits of a group of golfers-gone-wrong. My favorite by far opens with Matt Warzel teeing off, inadvertently causing a five-car pile up. Instead of arresting Warzel, the deputy gives him golf lessons. Judging by the laughter from the audience, the videos, as well as the show, are a big hit. So is dessert: pecan-pie cheesecake with mint-infused caramel sauce. It’s a sweet lover’s dream. No wonder Southerners like food so much; it is so good here.
Really, the whole show is about all the wonderful things in our area that we poke fun at but really love. The full house agreed with me. Everywhere I looked people were laughing, smiling and nodding.
For a night of pure silliness and great food, check out TheatreNOW for “Murder at the Country Club.” Be advised to purchase tickets fast; they’re selling fast.
DETAILS Murder at the Country Club 3 1/2 stars TheatreNOW • 19 S. 10th St. May 9th-10th, 16th-17th, 23rd-24th, 30th-31st 7 p.m. Tickets: $20-$32 www.theatrewilmington.com (910) 399-3669