Thursday, February 18, 2016

Review: Murder Room

Cottage B at the Sprucehaven Lodge is a place that is filled with skeletons. Skeletons from a woman’s past and present. In Sprucehaven B, the twisted drama written by Mark Cornell, we begin by seeing a meeting between old flames who happen to be, after ten long years, still married. When Isabel cuts a deal to have one final intimate encounter in exchange for signing the divorce papers, things swiftly take a turn for the fatal. In the next scene, we jump backwards in time as we see Isabel as a thirteen year old reunited with her father after being rescued from being kidnapped. And yet again, things take a drastic twist. Sprucehaven B is a character study of a woman with issues in trust and men and the triggers that make her snap. With inspiration clearly from writers like Stephen King, Cornell is a lover of the plot twist. In both scenes Cornell provides, a drastic plot twist takes central focus. For those who enjoy shock value, this is a script for you. While it’s likely these two plays could live alone, together it is an examination of character. And thus, brings up some dramaturgical woes, mostly in questions regarding the timeline of events. In the first act, the question of why, after ten years, this is the moment that Tommy takes action in getting Isabel to sign the papers. Cornell hints at reasons but they don’t seem strong enough to take affect. Practicality in reality isn’t always something that must be taken into consideration in theater. Sometimes the main mission is to entertain. And possibly the bigger question of the evening is a whole is figuring out how, after Isabel does what she does in Act II, she gets away with it and what happens next. Sadly, Cornel doesn’t offer enough exposition in Act I to satisfy this answer. There may be hints, but that’s about it.
photo by David Anthony
Creepy, horrific twists are exciting to explore on stage. But in this genre, a strong actor is necessary to sell it. Sadly, both the women portraying Isabel didn’t quite succeed as the driving force in either scene. Elizabeth Burke seemed to allow her New England accent get the best of her. While trying to maintain the integrity of location, her character never really found the twisted darkness it needed to scare the audience, and Tommy. Samantha Turret’s Isabel endured a traumatic experience that certainly forced her to mature. That being said, Turret did not portray thirteen years old in a realistic manner. Tonally, the play felt dramatic and wanted to live in that world. Turret’s characterization was far too comedic. When it comes to maintaining the genre, Tucker Bryan and Ari Veach captured the thriller essence. As estranged husband Tommy, Bryan wasn’t bogged down by accent, yet still captured a man seeking escape. Veach’s Snodgrass, 70s moustache and all, merely walked on stage and brought uneasiness to the world. Richie Abanes as Isabel’s father portrayed a man longing for reconnection but oddly was the sole cast member to not have an accent. It was a bizarre choice that affected the piece as a whole.
Creating a thriller is not easy. Director Akia did her best to bring the elements together in this festival setting. With stronger actors as Isabel and Young Isabel the overall tone may have been captured but the other features didn’t quite add up. While the schlocky 70s hotel was captured in Jak Prince’s design, the lighting didn’t do match. In the first act, Isabel lights three lanterns as we learn the power is out. While lighting the actors and scene is important, the practicality of the cast light combined with the theater lights brought further down would have created the eerie mode of the piece.
Sprucehaven B has elements that could scare the pants off of the audience. Only there seemed to be a lot holding back this production. The twists couldn’t quite save Spruchaven B.