Richardson — World-class bumbling detective and wannabe actor Harry Hunsacker (a stout-hearted, sweetly simple Scott Nixon) and his paid-by-the-hour assistant Nigel Grouse (a handsome, athletic Ben Bryant) are puttin’ on the ritz in a posh nightclub on New Year’s Eve, 1933 in A Minor Case of Murder. Harry’s fans themselves braved a freezing cold New Year’s Eve opening night at the Eisemann Center to cheer on their favorite sleuth as he dicks around the scene of the crime, puts apples and oranges together with witless abandon, and miraculously divines whodunit before the final curtain.
Harry loyalists never get enough of the hilarious pseudo-deductive babble and the cue-ball style with which Harry bounces from clueless to clue drenched, never-fail Nigel at his side. Pegasus Theatre Artistic Director Kurt Kleinmann, playwright and creator of the trademark makeup, costumes and soundscape spoofing ’30s detective movies, celebrates the company’s 32nd season with the 19th play in the hit series, and this one’s more fun than a waddle of penguins sliding down an iceberg.
An old Hollywood-style silver screen appears in the steeply raked 400-seat Eisemann Center theater, featuring Kleinmann himself, who embodied Harry until last season, with a brief history of the series, that merges elegantly with Ellen Mizener’s stunning stage set design, the glamourous Black Diamond Night Club, inviting with white table cloths, a sleek backdrop of black and silver curtains, a mini-Steinway front and center, and paneled dressing rooms above the stage that light up when a furtive scene is about to take place. Bring back prohibition décor!
Director Michael Serrecchia, returning for his seventh Harry romp, has some fresh staging tricks up his sleeve, and keeps the action moving and his actors engagingly real in this spoof of Hollywood noir films of the era.
This show has a delicious list of suspects, and they all look fantastic dressed to the nines in Michael Robinson’s costumes, the women in beaded and sequined gowns that catch chandelier lights gloriously, and nifty Nigel in a white evening jacket. Mobster Johnny Marco (Dan Servetnick in nasty, bully mode) threatens Black Diamond’s tough gal owner (a sardonic, hip-shakin’ Sheila Rose) because she won’t sell the club.
Marco is pissed at nearly everybody, actually. The pretty club singer (alluring Alex Moore) throws him over for a lowly playwright (Christian Schmoker). We know this is one telling triangle because a spotlight hits the rivals at each corner of the stage, and the clingy prize singing her heart out at the mike in the middle.). Of course, he hates meddling Harry and clever Nigel. Marco has an even shorter fuse than the chronically annoyed Det. Lt. Foster (an in-your-face Chad Cline), the only real cop on the scene, visiting the club tonight with his newest lady love, a sugah-pie dumb-ass platinum blonde named Bubbles LaTour (a throaty, comically seductive Leslie Patrick). Maybe hard-headed Foster has developed a soft spot for soft-headed sweeties after multiple collisions with hapless Harry.
A couple of honeymooning hicks are visiting the big bad city at one table, and a pianist named Danny (Joshua Bangle) keeps the dance music going at the big piano between the singer’s numbers. Danny delivers some chic Cole Porter duets with waitress/singer Iris (Olivia Grace), adding to the glam ambience of the evening.
Any room Harry walks into is, by definition, filled with suspects and/or victims. That’s half the fun of Kleinmann’s clever set-ups. By the time we get to the end of Act I, the count-down for 1934 has exploded on a dark stage, a shot is fired and the lights go up on a dead body. The question for Harry—and audience members filling in ballots at intermission—is who pulled the trigger? I didn’t have a clue, and like 90 percent of the audience, I’ve seen Harry wrangle the comic bejesus out of many an investigation. I’m guessing we’re such lame detectives because we’re all UIL (under the influence of laughter) and aren’t keeping a careful score.
The more we see Harry and company in action, the more we know them, and it turns out in a hilarious and wildly physical scene that Nigel has a past before he met Harry. Imagine that. Harry recalls his first day after hiring Nigel as his assistant. He tells a sympathetic Bubbles, “I taught him everything I know, and then we went to lunch.” Gotta love Harry.
For fun in a club and a cleansing dip into the truly simpler black and white world of yore, take a trip to the Black Diamond and try your own sleuthing skills on A Minor Case of Murder. By the time the Lady in Red (Stephanie Felton) walks on the stage, you’ll be applauding for everybody—even the real killer.
Bring a warm sweater. The trademark shades-of-gray makeup on the actors requires a cool hall.