at the Long Beach
Playhouse Studio Theatre
It's hard to know what to make of this puzzling production. Under the slow-paced direction of David Colley, Ken Ludwig's enigmatic mystery can't seem to decide whether it's a suspense thriller, a comedy, or a burlesque shtick of Sherlock Holmes. Neither as funny as Lend Me a Tenor or Moon Over Buffalo (for which Ludwig is best-known) nor as well-crafted as good murder mysteries must be, Postmortem is a composite of parts that struggle to fit together. After beginning with a lighthearted practical joke, the script grinds through dull exposition about all of its characters, who don't come to life until one of them, Louise, makes an unexpected entrance after her nervous breakdown. Halfway through the kitschy séance scene that she immediately performs, I couldn't stop wishing this material had been directed as an all-out, in-your-face farce.
On the positive side, production values are superb across the board: Andrew Otero's stunning set, Daniel Wheeler's fine light design, Donna Fritsche's dazzling costumes, and Ron Wyand's fabulous sound paint a vivid portrait of the rip-roaring '20s. Everything takes place in William Gillette's pseudo medieval castle, where a handful of thespian friends have been invited for the weekend. Exactly one year ago, Gillette's beautiful leading lady Maude killed herself—or was it murder?—and now someone is trying to kill William. Each one of his guests is a suspect, ho-hum.
Kudos to the actors, who squeeze lemonade out of this lemon. Rob Kerr, who made his mark by portraying Sherlock Holmes, commands the stage as William; Sybil Prince is delightful as his new young leading lady with a secret; Samuel Huntington plays her handsome full-of-himself boyfriend; Tracey Wiltse and Brent Weber are charming as William's bickering sister and brother-in-law; Jinny Wilcott almost steals the show as Willie's elegant, loving aunt; and Katherine Prenovost portrays Louise, the suspicious, overripe intruder who was Maude's best friend—or was she?
Presented by and at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Jun. 25-Jul. 9 only.) Jun. 10-Jul. 15. (562) 494-1014. www.lbph.com.
Reviewed by Shirle Gottlieb