Potomac Playmakers to stage murder-mystery comedy "Death by Design"
In Potomac Playmakers’ new production, “Death by Design,” a body has been discovered — and everyone is a suspect.
Director Nic Sigman said the show is billed as “Noel Coward meets Agatha Christie, so it’s got your murder mystery and it’s got your sort of charismatic interactions — but in a funny way.”
“Death by Design” opens Friday at the Women’s Club in downtown Hagerstown. The show runs for two Friday and Saturday shows with one special Sunday matinee.
The show is set at a 1932 English cottage of famous playwright Edward Bennett and his actress wife Sorel, where they are retreating to after a disastrous night. But their relaxing weekend is shattered after unexpected guests start arriving and one is murdered. It’s up to their feisty Irish maid Bridgit to solve the crime.
Sigman said the show promises an evening of laughter.
“It’s going to be a such a fun night of theater, which sounds really corny, but I’ve been doing a lot of serious things so this is refreshing to a comedy,” he said.
Sigman also is looking forward to making his debut as a director, after being assistant director for other shows. It’s a job that he feels he has a knack for.
“Before I had done anything backstage, I just assumed I’m just an onstage person but once I had the experience backstage I’m kind of torn which I would want to focus on,” he said. “I like being able to do both.”
When it comes to being a director, Sigman said he loves “helping people find the funny.”
“I haven’t directed anything more serious, other than the assistant directing stuff I’ve done. But I love the whole comedy aspect and seeing what somebody’s bringing to the role and then that spurs an idea of something that I will have them try, then that will spur an idea off of that, and then finding the funny and building that up,” he said. “I love, love being part of that. And one thing people have said before is my comic timing is pretty much spot on. If I can help others hone and build on that — it’s awesome.”
Playmakers veteran Tod Williams of Hagerstown plays the put-upon Edward Bennett.
“The great thing about this show, it’s just a lark. It’s funny and constant,” he said. “The humor is sophisticated on some levels and it’s base on other levels. There’s a lot of innuendos. It’s like any good British farce even though it’s not billed as a farce, it’s essentially kind of is.”
Williams said what he likes about portraying Edward is that “he’s everything I don’t get to be in real life.”
“Because he’s a successful London playwright and says whatever he thinks and he can be cuttingly rude if he wants to be,” Williams said. “Nowadays, in life you have to be very careful on what you say to whom and how you say it. He delivers these great one-liners. it’s a lot of fun. Even though the language is a little flowery and little difficult to get it right.”
But what he really loves about being in the show is the cast themselves.
“Every theater group — and this is no exception — accepts you for who you are. They don’t care what your background is, they don’t care how much money you make, how pretty you are — none of that matters because you’re here to do the work. Going into a situation like that where everyone is accepted, it can’t be beat.”
Williams, who is a second-level analyst for Sales Force at First Data in Hagerstown, said this show is “a light-hearted escape, but it’s also a mystery so they have to pay attention.”
“Especially this time of year when the winter doldrums set in, it’s nice to get out of the house for the evening and it’s a great cast,” he said.
Making his Playmakers stage debut is Bob Ashby of Keedysville as Walter Pearce.
Ashby, a retired federal lawyer, moved to the area from Northern Virginia where he also was active in community theater.
“It’s just an enjoyable thing to do,” Ashby said of acting. “I’ve done it forever, typically villains and other character roles. Walter is not exactly a villain, but he’s a character who needs to be unpleasant.”
What Ashby said he likes about “Death by Design” is that “it’s a very cute show.”
“This is not a show where one has to dig very deep beneath the surface. In fact, there’s nothing beneath it. My character says, ‘There’s absolutely nothing beneath my exterior.’ And that’s probably true about the entire show. It’s just a fun show. You’re not digging for subtext.”
Also making her Playmakers stage debut is Devin Taylor of Hagerstown who plays Bridgit.
“It’s definitely a work in layers,” she said of tackling the Irish accent. “Memorizing the lines and then layering on the different elements of the Irish accent. It’s a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Taylor, who balances life between being a bartender and waitress in Frederick, Md., with community theater and volunteer work, said as soon as she read for Bridgit she wanted to play her.
“She’s sarcastic and sassy and very bold and funny — and that’s very me,” she said. “And I really wanted to get involved in this one.”
She said it’s Bridgit’s feistiness that she likes to portray.
“I like that she lets Edward and Sorrel Bennet think that they own their own home,” she said, “but really she knows who comes in and out, and she controls what people eat, and when they come and when they go. It’s like her home away from home when they’re not there.”
As a newbie to the Potomac Playmakers, Taylor said she loves how she’s been embraced by the cast and crew, and that it shows on stage how well the eight cast members really work together.
“Not just our characters, but how we play off each other as people and how we challenge each other to be more creative or to think of things. We’re a very collaborative group and that’s going to make the show even funnier.”
She said this is a show that will make you laugh.
“It’s a hilarious show. It’s going to brighten your winter, for sure,” she said. “It’s a great date night thing. It’ll have you laughing the whole time.”
Top photo: Amaya Dull, left, as Victoria Van Roth, left, teaches a dance to Bob Ashby as Walter Pearce and Barb McCormick as Sorel, while Tod Williams as Edward Bennett watches. (By Crystal Schelle)