Might As Well Be Dead marks the second time playwright, Joseph Goodrich, has been commissioned by Park Square to adapt a mystery piece for their annual theatrical thriller. His play The Red Box, premiered in 2014 and consequently was the introduction of super sleuth, Nero Wolfe, to the Twin Cities.
Adapted, from the novel of the same name written by mystery guru Rex Stout, Might As Well Be Dead, carries on the Wolfe storyline in another world premiere. Wolfe and, sidekick gumshoe, Archie Goodwin are brought in on a missing persons case. The missing son turns up under a new name (same initials) and is consequently in jail for an heinous crime we hope he didn’t commit. I will not spoil the ending, but needless to say there are several dead ends, red herrings, and suspicious persons to weed through before they figure out “who done it.”
Director, Peter Moore and the capable cast do a great job with the film noir genre. The pacing is good and the actors (sometimes taking on multiple rolls) enjoy their character’s quirks and are clearly having fun. Highlights are the stoic baritone E.J. Subkoviak as the title character Nero Wolfe, Jim Pound is hilarious as the housekeeper/butler Fritz and Marisa B. Tejeda who (while is a little awkward as the beatnik coffee house gal Delia Brandt), is adorable as the ditzy, sweet, and genuine, Rita Arkoff. The set is fun and functional with old movie posters hanging from the grid. The period costumes, designed by Sara Wilcox, are bright and detailed and she does an admirable job with the multiple charactered rolls.
If I have any complaints it’s that, Park Square, which, (in my limited experience), is extremely mindful of colorblind, non gender biased and inclusive casting, stymied me a little, in that the only people of color in the cast were the three woman. It may have been completely coincidental, but it stuck out to me and was a bit distracting. Considering this is a mid century period play and the female characters are either tertiary or arm candy, it’s not doing anyone any favors to limit the POC to these ancillary parts.
The "Who's doing it?" of Park Square
Now, I’m not normally the biggest fan of the classic murder mystery, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, or Rex Stout, but it can be an enjoyable night of theatre. This evening was no exception. However there’s more, trust me... it gets cooler.
Did you know that there is a Mystery Writers Producers Club associated with Park Square Theatre? Me neither, but at the show I learned that there is a group (now over 40 local funders and families) who, not only contribute financially to the annual productions, they provide ideas during the early stages of the novel adaptation process. I read in the program that “over dinners, cocktail parties, play reading and rehearsals, ...they helped bring this play to life.” I decided to do a little more research.
This play is the fourth mystery production that this group has taken ownership of. In the original novel of Might As Well Be Dead, published in 1956, Stout has a business man come to New York City from Nebraska in search of his son. During the first few read throughs the Mystery Writers Producers’ Club decided it would be fun to change that to a business Woman from Saint Paul. They also apparently helped clean up plot lines or characters that didn’t work or (on the other hand) champion and applaud the parts of the script that were headed in the right direction. They act as cheerleaders and a support system for the playwright, all coming from a love and appreciation of the Mystery genre and for keeping it alive as an annual spot in the Park Square season.
All in all I had fun and learned more about the literal dedicated crew behind the scenes of these mystery shows. The production runs through the end of the month and if you’re looking for a light hearted, goofy, antiquated puzzle, this is definitely a date night for you. While you’re grabbing a beverage and reading the program, you TOO can learn more about the unique, dedicated group of theatre lovers committed to keeping the mystery alive in downtown Saint Paul.