Old sayings such as “patience is a virtue” and “good things come to those who wait” came in handy when I was watching Theatre Nova’s production of “Dead Serious” at the Luna Playhouse in Glendale.
That’s because I did receive a nice but not completely fulfilling reward after biding my time.
The ambience that overwhelms you even before taking your seat gets you into the proper mood from 1930s Cole Porter music playing as you enter the small theater. This is enhanced by a simple set of an English country home that’s well appointed with tasteful furniture and beautiful dark walls.
It is within this single setting, the study of Lawrence (Kelly Franett) and Agatha Emmerson’s estate, where all the action unfolds. Agatha (Anastasia Drake) and another man, Randolph Helmsley (Edgar Allan Poe IV) are tied to chairs, and Lawrence explains his intent to kill them. It appears that Randolph, who is Lawrence’s business manager, has not only been embezzling money but is having an affair with Agatha.
We subsequently learn that Lawrence, who may or may not be slightly loony and freely admits that he is “not a man of honor,” shot the neighbor’s dog and previously killed three other men. Apparently he’s in like-minded company because Agatha has had affairs with four other men, and Randolph had his business partner killed. The droll butler (Tom Moses) is most unconcerned that people will quite possibly be dead within moments.
Dutch Parker’s script teeters between Oscar Wilde and Agatha Christie in its journey between comedy and mystery, with the stronger nod going to the latter. The first act was good at unraveling the complicated history of the characters but didn’t pull me in enough. While a few other audience members seemed to delight in the dialogue, it wasn’t until the second act when I began to take more of an interest in the proceedings.
The numerous plot twists and surprise ending helped in this manner. However, you have to appreciate the humor and irony when Agatha, helplessly strapped to a chair, says to her husband in a stereotypically British manner, “I demand that you stop this immediately.”
All four actors fit their roles very well. Frannet is pompous as the cuckolded husband, Drake is appealing and lusty, Poe is a sniveling weasel, and Moses is the loyal butler you expect in this ensemble.
Kathy Pearson’s direction keeps things brisk and moving. The signature color throughout is red, appropriately symbolizing blood and passion. It’s most apparent on Maro Parian’s well-designed set and is smartly carried out in such small details as the play’s program.
While pleading for her life, Agatha tries to remind Lawrence that he loves her and he replies, “I still love you. I just don’t like you any more.” The reverse would sum up my feelings about the play: I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
PHILLIP HAIN is a Glendale resident who enjoys theater.