Review: Greenman Theatre Troupe’s Smoking Gun

In early March there is a group that puts on their annual “Murder Mystery Dinner” as a kind of fundraiser for their upcoming season. It is fairly common knowledge that murder mystery dinner shows are not well written by any stretch of the imagination, nor are they all that strong. I have made a point of avoiding them as much as possible except in extreme circumstances. However, once in a while curiosity gets the best of me and I end up going only to be reminded as to why I didn’t like them in the first place.

The only exception? Tony and Tina’s Wedding, but that wasn’t a murder mystery as much as just a show during dinner… but I am not talking about that in this point.

So knowing that there was a group putting on a mystery dinner I found myself interested enough to see them… after all they have been doing this for several years now, but I just had not had the time (or motivation, regrettably) to go. So when a friend of mine noted that she was planning to go I decided “why not” and went with her.

The first act… I will admit was a lot of expository and as thus seemed to slow down quite a bit at points and the action dragged in a lot of places. Then again, because it is a lot of expository it is bound to feel slow. Not an excuse in some cases and at first glance I could not understand why there are certain characters there or why certain scenes were included.

Sam Spade (played by Jim Zervas) caught my attention from the moment he opened his mouth, he was in character, and drew your attention. I found myself wondering when would be the next time he would be back on stage… thankfully being that he was the Private Investigator on the case it usually isn’t all that long.

The chemistry and interaction between Nino and Gilda (portrayed by Carl Zeitler and Courtney Knysch) is a sight to behold, they were fun, flirty, and have that perfect “tango-esque” quality of pushing against each other and pulling towards one another. They were more fun together than they were apart. Though, Nino was fun independently with a few other characters, Gilda was just fun to watch. Period.

Which brings me to Aphrodite (Grace Martinez)… she walks into the room and she demands attention. Then again considering the character are you really all that surprised? She had a nice “Mae West” quality to her voice and kept it subtle enough that I wasn’t sick of her. Seriously though, she was fun to watch.

Others that stood out every now and then were Effie and McPherson (respectively Vicky Giannini and Jerry Moore).

The first song of this “nightclub” was Hernando’s Hideaway by Virginia Archer (portrayed by Valerie Meachum). She did a respectable job with the song, but I found myself getting distracted and not at all pulled in by her vocals. What I mean is that she sang the song well, but for some reason I just didn’t believe her. There are several ways to interpret that: first and foremost, I felt she just sang the song just to sing it, as opposed to feeling any depth or adding anything into it. Secondly (and this was most common to those in our table) it felt like she was lip-syncing the song… that until we realized that she was actually mic’d. Not a good combo.

What also overwhelmed the song for me was that the tango dancers felt to be more the focal point as opposed to the vocalist. If the whole point of the story is for the vocalist to be featured, then why feature the dancers? Granted they all did a respectable job dancing the tango (and I have to turn off my ballroom tango dance technique persona off for this) but since I was watching the dancers more than the vocalist singing… it just felt very off-balanced. I do like the addition of the tango dancers, but I think I would have liked it more if they were in separate corners, and keeping the vocalist featured in the center (or actually featured on a stage) so there is some focus on her instead of being split… but I digress.

So who were the lucky characters to dance to Hernando’s Hideaway?
– Sam (James Zervas) / Effie (Vicky Giannini)
– Nino (Carl Zeitler) / Gilda (Courtney Knysch)
– Bruno (Erick Sosa) / Betty (Carolyn Larsen)

Next up was Aphrodite (Grace Martinez) singing Honeysuckle Rose. Now this is what I mean by “featuring the vocalist” your attention is drawn to Aphrodite and nowhere else. There wasn’t anything to distract you and she just drew you in. I enjoyed the song for the most part, but what I loved about Grace’s voice was her deeper, lower register, and I was sorely disappointed when that wasn’t featured in any capacity. This was a case of missed opportunity of taking the strength of the performer’s vocals and having her do a song that (although it works) was off, because it didn’t hit her “money spot” nearly as much as it could have.

Ah well.. c’est la vie.

But the songs that really caught my attention were done by the guys (sorry girls) particularly when the Chef (Tom Hughes), Rocky (Derek Dillon) and Pete the Mailman (James Harper) sang “Danny Boy” a song that I got sick of hearing back in high school because everyone and their brother was singing it… this trio of actors just breathe some kind of new life into it that was fun and enjoyable. (Well at least to me)

Another song that was a real crowd pleaser (for me) was Minnie the Moocher as sung by Sgt Michael O’Hara (Stan Kosek), Ralph Pauls (James Silverstein), Bruno Haines (Erick Sosa), Lt Guy McPherson (Jerry Moore). I mean, they were all off in some capacity or another, be it notes, tempo, pitch, whatever… but dammit I didn’t care because they looked like they were having the time of their lives up there and I was having fun watching them have fun. Granted the wings were distracting, but what can you do?

However, despite some of these more entertaining moments, the show still dragged for far longer than I felt need be. There appeared to be pieces that just seemed out of place and it got to the point that it was just so convoluted I was itching to go home.

But I didn’t, because I wanted to know “whodunnit”

And for some reason that’s the rub, despite the long, convoluted nature of the production there was something about it at the core that made me want to stay and know “whodunnit”. That is the merit of the writer(s) and the cast: to manage to muddle through the production and still keep the audience attention just long enough so the “big reveal” could happen.

I must admit the final “whodunnit” was nowhere on my radar… and I was quite pleased by that. The writers deserve kudos in providing more than enough red herrings that only the best and the brightest could figure out who the true “evil doer” was at the end.

All in all, in terms of murder mysteries this was decently written as a script… though needlessly convoluted in a lot of places. If the writer(s) and director would trim down the fat and quicken up the pace a bit then this might be something I would be willing to come by again down the road… Well that and that the general consensus I have heard from others that this was one of the better written productions in a very long time.

Would I though? I don’t know… it is hard to say. I suppose it will depend largely on what the content of the next mystery dinner is about. You know… that whole “wait and see”.

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