Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review: I Needed a Brandy After A Brandy Before Dying

by Kaila M. Stokes

A Brandy Before Dying was like a bad car crash that you walked away from knowing there were no survivors. It was a poor travesty of an attempt at both British comedy and old-school murder mystery. A Brandy Before Dying begins with Clarissa Lawncock (played by Penny Balfour) and Mr. Lawncock (played by Sean Gavigan) on stage in a living room bantering on and on as man and wife deciding whether or not to travel to a friend’s fourth wedding. The play didn’t make sense from the beginning. One can only assume that they were going for a farcical comedy, but the problem was, they didn’t go for it. It fell short in every category, so as an audience member it was like watching an up-in-coming gymnast miss the uneven bars every time.
The play’s inciting incident is when hooker Jennine Fra’Diavlo, played by Brandi Nicole Wilson, is mysteriously stabbed in the back in Roger’s home. Clarissa Lawncock was perfectly fine with her husband messing around since she was sleeping with his brother who was also her ex-husband, Roger (played by Dough Rossi). Then Gwen Fra’Diavlo shows up who is the hooker’s alleged sister, played by the same actress, but she isn’t. She is working with Roger – the ex-husband, brother and lover! But wait that is not all…Gwen is actually working with her other lover Sean! As you can see, madness! The order of events was actually the least of the problems. The execution of things was poor; the gunshot wound with no blood and being able to see her unwounded hand was silly (at least hide it), the knife in the back of the robe that the audience saw before they should have and the miming of everything. They kept “pouring brandy,” but without actually pouring anything. Every time the doorbell rang, they pretended to open a fake door instead of walking a foot offstage. These are just some of the things that were amateur to see and could have been easily fixed.
The director missed opportunities to go big. Since the plot and characters were ridiculous the entire show should have been over the top directorially as well. The directors choices were all based in reality when the characters weren’t. The actors were then not reacting to one another, but only to the obscure navigation of a crazy plot mixed with sane stage directions. The actors seemed as confused as the audience was. The one good note is that the director clearly has a sense of humor. That provided a good reprieve when the audience was able to laugh at the stupidity or clever comment. With that being said, clearly there is potential, but more work is needed for sure.
The lighting did not help solve anything either, it only confused. The blackouts did not make sense; sometimes there was a black out while characters were still speaking or they would just happen in an abrupt manner.  If the lighting had been used more creatively so many blackouts would not have been needed. Blackouts only take the audience out of the theatrical experience and should be used a little as possible. Since the lights were a general wash of light, spotlights could have been used to indicate change of place, character or activity.
The space was limiting, but people have done better with less. Overall A Brandy Before Dying was a bit half assed. They sprang for a fake full body skeleton, but not fake blood for the gunshot wound? The plot sounds interesting, but is really just a clotted mess of ideas. The ideas are there, but organization is needed.