Review: A Tomb with a View at Bowie Community Theatre

TheatreBloom rating:

Mistakes can happen even with the most organized and ordinary of people. The Tomb family are a far cry from ordinary. Almost a modern day Addams Family with all of the doom and gloom that shrouds their secrets, the six Tomb children are marvelously mad and delight in the accidentally intentional misfortune of visitors who arrive at their happy haunt. The marvelously maddened transform into mysterious murderers or murder victims as the bodies pile up faster than Dora can find room for them in her flowerbeds. A Tomb with a View, by Norman Robbins, is a classic whodunit with a quirky comic twist, winding and spiraling along the lunatic’s path through six smashingly insane siblings and their troubles that arise once their poor papa bites the dust. Directed by Jeffrey Lesniak, this comedic thriller will keep you guessing while you chuckle along to the absurd conclusion.

The cast of A Tomb with a View now appearing on stage at Bowie Community Theatre
The cast of A Tomb with a View now appearing on stage at Bowie Community Theatre Bowie Community Theatre

Set some 50 miles outside of London and some 30 odd years outside of the present day, The Tomb Family home finds itself on display compliments of Set Designer Ryan Ronan. While we only ever see the library and its suspiciously vacant bookshelves, Ronan’s hidden panel work and overall layout of the space alludes to the fact that the manor home sprawls on in many directions, through the notion that these tunnels— as they lead off-stage— could actually carry the characters to other parts of the house. Ronan’s dreary interior decorating feels perfectly suitable for the melancholic macabre that reigns supreme in the Tomb family, particularly the faded citrus striping on the upright wallpaper.

Costume Designer Valerie Mikles follows Ronan’s lead for inspiration when it comes to appropriately attiring the cast in wardrobe that fit their zany personalities while still making them recognizable as members of the Tomb Family. The draped dresses that drift along drearily behind Dora are delightfully dark and fit her distorted personality. The vivacious splash of color that appears on outsider Freda Mountjoy (Diana Hutter) is a striking comparison to the darker tones used all across the family.

The show’s biggest hang-up is its pacing. Director Jeffrey Lesniak fails to motivate the tempo to keep up the quippy and biting humor that is so excellently penned into the script by Robbins. Forgiving a few dropped and flubbed lines from the performers is easy enough, however, Lesniak’s sluggish progression keeps a great many of the subtler jokes from landing and stifles some of the suspenseful builds. To his credit, Lesniak serves as the show’s Sound Designer and the howls from brother Oliver as well as the creaking doors in the old manor home are spot on with the show’s overall feel of murder and mayhem.

The cast of ten does a solid job handling their accents when it comes to taking charge of the British sound. Those who cannot hold an accent don’t try and this is a nobler approach to their characters than trying and butchering the sound and thusly becoming hung up on how they’re delivering lines rather than what they’re delivering. Those that do manage accents, do so with smooth consistency and it keeps the production feeling grounded in the English setting.

Each of the appearing Tomb siblings find their own performative niche that augments their caricature-like nature, with each performer latching onto a character trait upon which they define their delivery of these outrageous individuals. Lucien (Rich Koster) and Marcus (Rob Allen) rely on their physicalities, with Koster airing on the fusty and tantrum-throwing side of that coin while Allen sweeps through a room with his larger-than-life personality. Allen has a keen sense of timing in his line delivery, which are direct quotes from Julius Caesar, and lands quite a few chuckles among the audience because of it.

Penworthy (John Decker) and Agatha Hammond (Joanne Bauer) are a bit like the crumbling foundation of the old manor home when it comes to supportive characters. Decker, though a bit feeble of line recollection and delivery, is quite quirky in his own unique way and keeps you guessing when it comes to just what is happening with his character. Bauer is a scene stellar as she flips like a flapjack from being  a creepy cantankerous old house maid— a la The Haunted Mansion— barking at the family members to brimming with disturbingly giddy glee over serving coffee and dinner.

Nurse Anne (Terra Elaine Vigil-Wynn) is somewhat of a conundrum, not exactly fitting the doom and gloom stereotype of the household. Doing her best to channel her inner Florence Nightingale, her saccharine approach to the character is only slightly off-putting, but in the best possible fashion. It’s the way she interacts with the rest of the family that’s worthy of taking note.

Peregrine (Alex Hyder) Potter may be a household outsider but his flawless accent and highly animated facial features having him fitting like a snug glove right into the schemings and unravelings of the chaos inside Monument House— the official name of the Tomb Family home. Hyder is a rigorous burst of energy and his frenetic pulse surges through and carries a great deal of scenes, despite the show’s overall lack of motivated drive. His interactions with the tawdry Monica Tomb (Stephanie Allender) are hysterical. Allender, who embodies sexuality almost to a campy level in her pursuit of the young Mr. Potter, is equally alive and vivacious in her portrayal of her character, making the two great infusions of energy for the show. Between the trampy trollop and the spastic secretary, this pair keeps the audience engaged in their shenanigans quite thoroughly.

When it comes down to character conception, Maribeth Vogel has Emily Tomb nailed to the floor with biting accuracy.  Sharp of tongue, tart of cheek, and quick of wit, it’s only the show’s languid meandering that keeps all of her zippy zingers and zesty one-liners from landing true on the audience’s ear. A viciously pernicious little sniping snip of a thing, Vogel sinks her teeth into the meat of the Emily character with gusto and the audience is not disappointed.

The Tomb Family Siblings: (L to R) Rob Allen as Marcus, Jeanne Louise as Dora, Maribeth Vogel as Emily, Rich Koster as Lucien, and Stephanie Allender as Monica
The Tomb Family Siblings: (L to R) Rob Allen as Marcus, Jeanne Louise as Dora, Maribeth Vogel as Emily, Rich Koster as Lucien, and Stephanie Allender as Monica Bowie Community Theatre

It all comes down to dotty Dora (Jeanne Louise.) Playing the character at the peak of histrionic, Louise is a hoot in this madcap comically invested role. Her frequent panicked attacks of paranoia are uproarious and jive well with her slightly off-kilter sense of mental stability. Clinging to a frayed thread of sanity, though giddy with glee over her garden, Louise’s portrayal of Dora goes completely round the twist once the “moment with the box” occurs. The most engaging performer in the production because of her visible madness, Louise will have you pushing Daisy’s with a smile before you can even bat an eye.

Pacing aside, the performances are solid and the show is peppered with dark humor in addition to its naturally convoluted twists and turns to keep audiences guessing at whodunit. A show worth investigating if you’re in the mood for a little murder and mischief.

Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes with one intermission

A Tomb with a View plays through July 31, 2016 at Bowie Community Theatre at The Bowie Playhouse— 16050 White Marsh Park Drive in Bowie, MD. For tickets please call the box office at (301) 805-0219 or purchase them online.

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