by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Murder mysteries are a staple of community theatre, especially summer community theatre and and one can always count on Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre to successfully present at least one, if not more each summer. C&Cs latest offering, The Gazebo by Alec Coppel, based on a story by Myra Coppel and Alec Coppel and Directed by Baltimore theatre veteran Linda Chambers is a little different, but in a good way.
The Gazebo isn’t your run of the mill “whodunit” but a farcical display where the TV-writer-husband is trying to secretly get rid of a house in the suburbs to move back to the city and the soap-opera-actress wife falls in love with a European gazebo that she has delivered to N.Y. piece by piece, as a present for her husband, and the audience already knows who the killer is but the question is… who’s the victim? The script moves along nicely and the characters are likeable and the twist toward the end makes it a very enjoyable production.
At first glance, I could tell this was a top notch production as the set, which is in a round, is absolutely beautiful. The stage is just about on the same level as the audience, but Set Designer Moe Conn does a brilliant job expressing the elegance of an early 60s Long Island, N.Y. home from the gold wall art to the intricate fireplace and bookshelf display. Conn does a great job of matching the room with appropriate furniture and everything blended very well together.
Conn also took on the duties of Light Designer and though with a straight play lighting is minimal, but Conn does a very nice job setting the mood and contrasting between bright scenes and dark scenes very appropriately. Though the dark scenes are supposed to be… well… dark, it may have been a tad too dark, but it was still appropriate and set the mood nicely.
The show actually starts with a bang and you’ve now been warned! A real stage gun is used, so… be aware! Thank goodness the audience is warned ahead of time or I would have probably been hanging from the rafters! However, I like the “go big or go home” attitude and Director Linda Chambers did a fantastic job moving the story of The Gazebo along. I’ve stated before and I’ll state it again, directing in the round is difficult work, but Chambers does it flawlessly. She moves her actors around the stage fluidly and naturally and gives attention to all four sides of the audience and she uses her space very wisely. The pacing is a bit slower than it should be for a comical farce, but still moves along nicely (though the blackouts between scenes could pick up the pace a bit, as well). Chambers vision is apparent and her casting is on point.
According to the program, the time of this piece was the “Early 60s” and Costume Designer Eva Grove does a fine job costuming the cast in the garb reminiscent of that ear. I say reminiscent because I wouldn’t say the look was exactly from the 60s but with the loud prints and saddle shoes, it had hints of the ear. That being said, the costumes were absolutely wonderful and appropriate. Grove’s actors were comfortable, which is very important, and were dressed as I imagined their characters would be dressed being from upper class Long Island.
Heading up the small cast of The Gazebo, Thom Peters takes on the role of Elliott Nash, the TV writer who is stuck in the suburbs of Long Island because his wife loves the house they live in but longs to be back in the New York City, living in the Algonquin Hotel with their outstanding room service. Peters does outstanding work portraying this role when things are going well for Elliott Nash but when things start getting a little frantic, Peters seems to have a hard time keeping up. A farce is very fast-paced with many things happening at the same time and when the pacing in the script picked up, Peters performance became exasperated facial expressions, a high-pitched voice, and flailing arms. However, that’s not to say his performance wasn’t good, just a bit much and a drastic change from when things were running more smoothly in the script. Overall, his performance is very good, indeed, and he is comfortable and confident on stage and seems to understand his character and the troubles his character has to endure.
Tom Wyatt, known in Baltimore theatre, takes on the role of Harlow Edison, the next-door neighbor and friend who happens to be a District Attorney, is a highlight in this production. From his first appearance on stage, his has a very good command of the stage and has a great presence. He’s very natural and comfortable and glides effortlessly through his performance. He’s a joy to watch in this production.
As the leading lady in this production, Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, a Baltimore theatre regular, is the standout as Nell Nash. She really seems to know her character and couldn’t be more natural in this role and she is quite comfortable and confident on stage with a commanding presence that doesn’t overpower but makes one take note. Her comedic timing is spot on and she really seemed to get the nuances of her character, the actress-wife who only wants her husband to be happy and will stick by him through thick and thin, whatever that may be. Hunnicutt’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
In a more minor but very important role, Christopher D. Cahill tackles the character of Charlie Thorpe, the contractor who lays the foundation for the titular gazebo (of which he humorously pronounces “Gaze-boh”). Cahill’s character acting hits the nail on the head and is a highlight in this production making Charlie Thorpe a very likable character who reminds me of that favorite uncle with the down-to-earth charm that makes you smile when he comes around. Cahill also takes on the role of a British tough-guy called The Dook, which is a complete flip from the down-to-earth Charlie Thorpe and he pulls this role off brilliantly, as well. Two completely different characters performed flawlessly by one actor.
Rounding out the cast are Regina Rose as Mrs. Chandler, the motivated real estate agent secretly working with Elliott Nash, Anna Steuerman as Matilda, the unimpressed maid of the Nashes, Richard Ahlstrom as Louie, the bumbling assistant thug to The Dook, and Albert J. Boeren as Detective Jenkins, the no-nonsense officer of the law just trying to get down to the bottom of things.
Final thought… The Gazebo is a light mystery-farce that moves along quickly and has some magnificent performances. Not the usual “whodunit” but very enjoyable and is appropriate for the space and all audiences. If you’re looking for something fun to do the next couple of weekends, check out this show! Bring your friends and see if you can figure out who the victim might be!
This is what I thought of this production of The Gazebo.… what do you think?
The Gazebo will play through July 31, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.