‘Gift of Murder’ amounts to gift of gab at LB Playhouse

giftofmurder.jpgBy Vicki Paris Goodman
Arts and Entertainment Editor

The morning after I saw Gift of Murder I’m having trouble remembering its story. Come to think of it, I don’t really think it had much of a story. But I liked it. And since Gift of Murder has such a thin plot, how in the world could playwright George Batson have justified its two-and-a-half hour length? Oy. Still, I liked it.
I liked watching Yvonne Robertson, as famous actress Stella Cavendish, strutting about the stage talking as much with her hands as with her mouth as she nimbly tossed out rapid-fire one-liners so dry I was looking around for the location of the fire extinguisher … just in case.
I loved the overblown theatrics of cast member Dianne Manaster, playing Stella’s archrival of the stage, Flavia (love the name). Manaster delivers the total package – the walk, the posture, the gestures, the facial expression and vocal inflection – not to mention great comic timing. Flavia is Gloria Swanson and Hermione Gingold all rolled into one.
I even enjoyed the various attempts at English accents – some perfectly fine and others, um, not so good. It all worked.
Well, let’s get to the plot, such as it is. At least it will be good exercise for my ever failing memory… So a worn out Stella and her pretty niece Mary (Nicole Cannis) have rented a vacation cottage after a long and grueling theater season. Stella’s producer Dennis (David Rousseve) shows up with a new script in tow and an apparent plan to woo Stella. Stella seems rather indifferent to Dennis’ ardor. Flavia just happens to be driving through the area and pops in for a surprise visit on Stella’s birthday. Hmmm.
Romantic possibilities do, however, rear up when neighboring vacationers Oliver (Bob Fetes), a former leading man of Stella’s, and his nephew Peter (David Anton), inject themselves uninvited onto the scene. Hmmm.
Housekeeper Wimpie (Geraldine Fuentes) and “the nurse” (Susan E. Taylor) add much more to the goings on than their lesser sounding roles would suggest. I liked that, too. Nurse knows way too much about the theater to be immune from suspicion. But what reason, other than the play’s title, do we have to suspect anything? There’s got to be a murder, right? Hmmm.
Well, a number of incidents have been recalled in which Stella narrowly escaped death from various stage “accidents” over the years. Okay, so everyone is a suspect.
A murder finally occurs, but who cares? After all, none of the characters is the least bit likable. Still, I liked this play. It pokes great fun at itself, and sometimes that’s enough.
Director Dale Jones knew just where to overdo it, and he just as competently reined things in where necessary.
Gift of Murder is too long, its characters too unpleasant, its plot too lean. But I liked it, I really liked it.
Gift of Murder continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through June 21. General admission tickets are $22.00; $20.00 for seniors (60+). Student tickets are $12.00 on Fridays and Saturdays with valid student ID. Special summer rates are in effect from May 26 thru September 1, during which time general admission tickets will be $18.00, $15.00 for seniors, $10.00 for students with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, with Sunday matinees on May 18, 25, June 1, 8 and 15 at 2 PM. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at www.lbph.com.

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