I won’t spoil either by giving away too much. Suffice it to say, these are such innocent stories, peopled with such innocent characters – even the “Snidely Whiplashes” are almost likeable villains. There’s something so Hardy Boys like about these plays and LaViolette’s writing – you can almost imagine curling up on a couch before a warm fire with them. They are that cozy, comfortable and easy to digest.
LaViolette says his inspirations are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers. Divine’s Grace, the first of the plays, set in a most genteel 1907 England, clearly has a “Sherlock Homes” quality. The cast’s English accents are very soft and genuine – facilitated, no doubt, by the fact that two of the five actors are English and assisted the others with their voicing.
The acting in Divine’s Grace is very good. Rachel Visocan, Austin Pierce, David Hawley, Gwynneth Rausch and Joe O’Conner are perfect for their parts. Kudos to director Jim Meady for finding just the right people for just the right parts and kudos to the actors for displaying such oh-so-British early 20th Century staid conservatism.
As Rausch’s character, Jane, Lady DeBonnaire says, “all is well that ends well” – and everything ends so very well in this piece. It’s nice to find a world in which right, truth, love and honesty prevail in the end.
The Kerpash Affair – directed by Judy E. Yordon, the 2nd offering of the evening - has similar qualities. It is a contemporary piece, seemingly inspired by the Madoff ponzi scheme scandal. It, too, brims with simple, seemingly honest, innocent characters, yet the story isn’t quite as coherent as the first and the acting tends toward the cartoon-like or caricature-ish. Perhaps that was Yordon’s intent rather than the actors’ choice for The Kerpash Affair is more of a comedy than a mystery with a Batman-and-Robin feel to it. It definitely has some humorous spots.
A highlight of The Kerpash Affair is Kidnapper A, or B, I don’t know which (either Christopher Purcell as A or Kevin Bristow as B). His comic acting, replete with “funny voice”, quirky gestures and body movement are a delight.
Both plays are slow in spots. With a total run time of almost three hours, it seems the action could be sped up a bit without sacrificing story or atmosphere. I noticed some heads nodding off here and there but, again, it’s nice to find a world of mystery and intrigue in which evil is not so evil, one notable for its absence of violence, terror and bloodshed - even if for only one night.
All in all, An Evening of Mysteries makes for a decent evening of lite theatre fare.
And, while I think this is well-known to St. Louis theatre fans, I want to point out that this company’s mission is to promote and stage new, unpublished work by St. Louis playwrights. In doing that, First Run provides a service to the community which goes beyond, well beyond, a typical community theatre troupe. My hat is off to First Run, its supporters and to its “sister” group, The St. Louis Writer’s Group, for their efforts in encouraging, developing and promoting local talent.
Oh, and I promised I’d say the crew did a fine job. Fine job, folks!
An Evening of Mysteries continues at DeSmet Jesuit High School through Sunday, January 22nd. For more information, visit http://ww.firstruntheatre.com on the web.