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LA Theater Review

Bad Heir Day

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Funny thing about writing a mystery: The writer can arbitrarily ascribe guilt to whichever character he or she chooses, and the audience must accept it. Such is the case in this play, in which the eventual revelation of the guilty party leaves the audience not so much gasping in disbelief as sighing in resignation.

Until that point, Jack Chansler's play, directed by Tom Moses, brings us the myriad whingings of some of the most unpalatable characters ever collected. Although Jinny Wilcott is frequently adorable as the batty matriarch of the Lockwood clan, whose fortune the titular "bad heirs" are splitting, her two children, Claudine the drunkard (Judith E., fighting a Spanish accent) and Donald the food snob (David Calhoun, feigning an English one, why?), have distasteful new spouses and bratty offspring, all of whom want the biggest share of the spoils. Daniel Espeseth is suitably smarmy as Claudine's husband, Maxwell, and Joanna Houghton is a lively breath of Spice Girl–scented air as Donald's gold-digging paramour. Nathan G. Johnson offers pleasant respite from the family squabbles as Claudine's son who has become a monk. Natalie Lipka, however, as Donald's daughter Ashley-Vanessa, may be believable as a model if only because she should be seen and not heard. Her character has little redeeming value, turning downright horrifying as she throws herself at her own cousin because of his larger inheritance.

Other disturbing psychosexual dynamics are at play, as well. As nearly every man onstage gets lecherous with the maid (a capable but brief turn by Maureen Ganz), one wishes Chansler had thought of other devices to disseminate an illusion of guilt. Chansler makes, however, an excellent, lost Smothers Brothers–type manservant.

Although some of the jokes may be tired and a cinematography gag may never pay off, this play has many redemptive qualities as a homegrown piece of theatre. For one, the hurricane scene is hilarious. Beyond that, there seems to be no end of audience in this world for an Agatha Christie–Blythe Spirit hybrid. Will Bad Heir Day find that audience? Maybe in another 12 years.

Presented by and at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. (Dark Jan. 14.) Jan. 12-Feb. 17. (626) 256-3809. www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.

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