Absolutely Dead, by Michael Walker, is a rather difficult play for me to review. Whereas Ken Kienas, director of the production currently running at the Bowie Community Theatre, writes in his director’s note that he was floored upon reviewing the play’s ending, I can’t say that my response was at all comparable — and, given the overwhelming importance of the reveal to one’s impression of a murder mystery, that had quite a bit to do with my overall opinion of the production. The script, also, is among the weaker links in the chain; while murder mysteries tend to feature characters behaving oddly in order to affect the audience’s suspicions, some of the exchanges between these characters seemed uncommonly alien as written. As a result, I found the play a bit unfortunate, because, in all other respects, Absolutely Dead is absolutely a well-done production.
The set work on Absolutely Dead is absolutely praiseworthy. Though one might question whether the suburbs proper would be as isolated as the events of the play seem to suggest, the set not only evokes the living room of a suburban home but is effectively a cross-section of one. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Set Dressers/Decorators Jeanne Louise and Malia Murray and Set Painter Annette Landers moonlight as interior decorators; the walls and trim are all expertly painted and appropriately placed; attractive furniture and family photos are situated throughout the room; there’s even a glimpse of stairs leading up to a second level of the house. Penny Martin’s sound design further heightens the realism of the set: various alarms demonstrate the home’s security system, and, whenever the front door opens to admit visitors to the house, we hear the wicked downpour outside. (Shout-out to Lighting Designer Garrett Hyde, as there are even periodic lightning flashes in the window!) Costume Coordinator Grace Geisinger also deserves kudos here — while the characters are largely dressed in casual outfits that might otherwise go unnoticed, I was fairly impressed that actors managed to enter from the “outdoors” looking quite drenched. They weren’t actually tracking water across the stage (as far as I could tell), and I couldn’t see water pooling about the coat rack where they left their raincoats, but the various wet spots on their clothing and the glossy spotting on their coats really sold the illusion.
Similarly, while I had issues with the writing in Absolutely Dead, the actors’ performances were absolutely solid. In particular, the actors deserve kudos for the rapport their characters seemed to share with each other. As Jack Morgan, Bob Cohen exuded charm and likability that were undiminished even as he gently mocked his wife — and Terri Laurino, as Ruth Morgan, conveyed both geniality alongside her stage spouse and consternation when subsequent developments soured her disposition. In that latter respect, as widower Ben Martin, Bill Fellows excelled; his lingering depression at the loss of his wife was palpable in his performance. Complementing the sunniness and the sorrow of the aforementioned adults was the steam of youth, and the clear chemistry and romantic tension between Maddi Stanton and Drew Sharpe, who respectively portrayed Alice Martin and Jon Morgan, were among the highlights of the play. Bringing a certain levity to the proceedings were Glenn Singer and especially Barbara Webber — whereas Singer’s Colin Ashcroft largely supplied the straight man role, Webber, as his wife Susan, got more than a few laughs for her wacky and unrestrained antics. And Peter Eglitis, as the obligatory lawman, interestingly enough managed to project an admirable assortment of airs in his limited time on stage: he was variously a concerned friend, bumbling comic relief, and a capable authority figure.
But then there is the script. At one point in the play, there is a fairly protracted story about one of the characters shooting squirrels; at another a corpse is described in lurid detail with a Willy Wonka reference. The lines were clearly attempts at humor, and there was laughter from the audience in response, but I just found those bits… strange. Though I acknowledge that there is potential for humor in awkward and even inappropriate moments, the disconnect between my overall discomfiture and the audience’s delight — and the more positive reaction to the various soap opera-esque twists and turns of the play’s latter half — leads me to suspect that I lack the proper context to fully appreciate Absolutely Dead. In the event that murder mystery devotees might find my issues with the play less objectionable, I would absolutely suggest that they give it a viewing.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Absolutely Dead plays through July 28, 2019 with Bowie Community Theatre at the Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park— 16500 White Marsh Park Drive in Bowie, MD. For tickets please call the box office at (301) 805-0219 or purchase them online