Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Righto, love: A whole lot of deducting going on | www.tucsoncitizen.com ®

Righto, love: A whole lot of deducting going on www.tucsoncitizen.com ®:

Righto, love: A whole lot of deducting going on
Published: 12.06.2007

What will it be? Revenge or forgiveness? Seeking revenge surely makes for better theater. Check out the mind games in "The Business of Murder" by Richard Harris. This ingenious whodunit shifts into a howdunit before reaching its resolution as a whydunit.

Invisible Theatre has turned to secular counter-programming for the holidays by coming up with this crisp production directed by James Blair. The subject is murder, but the active ingredient is cleverness.
If you love to watch a good mystery unfold onstage, if you enjoy staying at least one jump ahead of the playwright, this show is for you. It is written in the grand old tradition of Agatha Christie, with a whole lot of deducting going on.

The story takes place in London, in the relatively modern time of 1981. The one-room set does include a telly that is turned on now and then, with some other present-day conveniences mentioned in the dialogue.

Harold Dixon plays Hallett, one of those casual but saucy detectives always standing around with his hands in his pockets, making smart remarks. Act One opens with Hallett in the apartment of Mr. Stone (Douglas Mitchell), who is upset. It seems Mr. Stone's adult son might be accused of murdering Mr. Stone's wife. But pretty soon this setup is tossed into the hopper and the plot's premise begins shifting to cast Mr. Stone in a more dubious light.

By the time Maedell Dixon shows up as the mysterious Dee, all bets are off on who did what to whom.
What makes all this so much fun is seeing how evenly matched the two men are as actors. Making such a complicated plot believable requires a convincing presence. Audience members must be willing to throw themselves into every brain-wrenching twist of suspense this playwright can dream up. For that to happen, the characters must be devoted to being devious, capable of everything the script commands.
Mitchell has more lines and more explaining to do, but Harold Dixon counters with attitude. He smirks and sneers, gives the impression this is just one more crime to solve. But as more and more layers of plot are peeled away, Dixon's level of frustration rises.

Maedell Dixon's role as Dee becomes more pivotal as the conflict increases. At first we think she is just the dame. In terms of hard-boiled fiction, the woman whose presence gives all the guys so many naughty, then nasty thoughts.

Once everyone realizes nothing in this play is ever going to be what it seems, Dee's presence becomes more than symbolic. She has the potential to be a threat to both sides.
In real life, the Dixons are married to each other. Their professional careers in theater and as educators include many performances with Tucson theater companies. Harold is also a "University Distinguished Professor" in the School of Theatre Arts at the University of Arizona.
Mitchell's lengthy theater background includes considerable work in network television and more than 150 stage productions in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Oregon. On the Invisible Theatre stage they are banging around like a couple of bulls in the same china shop.

Grade: B

additional information

What: Invisible Theatre presents "The Business of Murder" by Richard Harris
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16
Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
Price: $22-$25, with group discounts
Info: 882-9721, www.invisibletheatre.com

Thursday, December 6, 2007

IT's 'The Business of Murder' is an impeccable play

Tucson Weekly : Arts : Intriguing Theater

Intriguing Theater
IT's 'The Business of Murder' is an impeccable play

As audience members take their seats before the start of The Business of Murder at Invisible Theatre, Bernard Herrmann's music for various Alfred Hitchcock movies plays in the background. This is an important clue: Hitchcock was a master of psychological thrillers, not Agatha Christie-style whodunits, and it's a psychological duel that's about to play out on the IT stage.

The Business of Murder is a 1981 play by Richard Harris, not the late actor but a prolific British television writer who specialized in crime and detective teleplays. TV shows can open up and go on location, but plays are necessarily limited in their settings, unless the producers have a large budget or a very imaginative director and audience. Harris makes the most of the constricted theater, capitalizing on the claustrophobic atmosphere in an increasingly tense cat-and-mouse game. And the finest thing about Harris' script is that we're never quite sure who is the cat and who is the mouse.

The very first images on stage are of a London police detective named Hallett snooping around an apartment. Perhaps he's on to something. But perhaps not, because he is soon joined by the flat's owner, a fussy, nervous fellow named Stone, who seems to want his son to inform on some drug thugs he's involved with. But the son fails to materialize, and Hallett takes his leave; Stone, alone, very methodically prepares for something devious.

Soon he receives a visit from a television writer named Dee, something of a stand-in for Harris himself. Dee has quickly become a popular and financially successful writer of detective scripts, and Stone has invited her to see his dying wife about a story idea she has. But like the son, the wife never materializes, either; instead, Stone expounds upon the subject of murder: its motivations, or lack of motivations; its techniques; those individuals, like police detectives and TV writers, who make money in the murder business without having to commit the crime themselves; and even a bit about the plight of the homicide victims' survivors.

It's a very talky, philosophical scene, one sure to bore the deerstalker cap off of anyone who wants to get on with looking for clues and spotting inconsistent alibis. But Harris has set up a great many clues and inconsistencies in these first scenes; you merely have to listen carefully to these characters talk, instead of spotting Col. Mustard in the conservatory with a rope.

It's the second act where the tension escalates, but even through most of this half of the play, questions continue to mount. Has a murder already taken place, or is it about to? If it hasn't happened yet, can it be stopped? And who, exactly, is the victim?

Victimization and revenge are the true subjects of The Business of Murder, it gradually becomes clear, but even in those rare moments when you think you've figured out exactly what's going on, you're never sure that you won't be thrown off by some twist or reversal a moment later.
Rigorously directed by James Blair, IT's production keeps every prop, every element of blocking, every tic of character precisely in place. Not that anything seems mechanical; it's just as meticulous as a murderer's plan.

Douglas Mitchell is especially fine as Stone. He passes himself off as a finicky, fretful, overgrown mouse in the first scene with Hallett, but when interacting with Dee, he grows utterly creepy in his intensity and slightly overbearing manner.

He's well-matched by the husband-and-wife team of Harold and Maedell Dixon as, respectively, Hallett and Dee. Harold's somewhat lower-class cop is cocksure and just arrogant enough to chuckle at his own little jokes, yet he's also watchful, and the actor delivers a particularly alert, controlled performance. Likewise, Maedell's Dee is a bit high-strung but not out of control. If there's anything to criticize in her performance, it's that the vodka her character swills seems to have little effect; Dee's nerves are manipulated solely by Stone, an external rather than internal force. Yet the shifting dynamic between Mitchell and Maedell Dixon in their first scene together is so finely modulated that it's hard to complain.
The actors also know how to find the occasional humor in their characters and their situation, but perhaps the funniest line is an accident of casting: Maedell Dixon must say to her husband, Harold, "Don't tell me what I can and cannot do--I'm not your wife."

Nothing else happens by accident in this production of The Business of Murder; every element is as fastidious as the script's own intrigue.

The Business of Murderpresented by Invisible Theatre 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m., Sundays; through Dec. 161400 N. First Ave.$22-$25882-9721

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mitchell is a must-see in Invisible Theatre's whodunit | www.azstarnet.com ®

Mitchell is a must-see in Invisible Theatre's whodunit www.azstarnet.com ®:

Published: 11.30.2007

Mitchell is a must-see in Invisible Theatre's whodunit

By Kathleen Allen


Pay attention.

Pay very close attention.

In the first scene of the first act of "The Business of Murder," which Invisible Theatre opened Wednesday, about everything you need to know to solve the mystery is revealed to you.

Still, we're willing to bet you'll miss it.

That's what makes this genre, and this Richard Harris play, so much fun — it keeps you guessing, even as the clues are hidden in plain view.

The play — which IT first staged 17 years ago — is a pretty standard cat-and-mouse story.

Mr. Stone lures the detective, Hallett, to his apartment under false pretenses. And he lures Dee, the married Hallett's lover, there, too. It seems he's setting them up, but for what? And why?

Playing Stone is Douglas Mitchell, who is fairly new to the Old Pueblo.

He is an impressive talent. He gave his Stone a jittery nervousness that made you suspect, and in an instant turned that into a steely resolve that made you frightened. And the man has a way with an English accent.

He stole this show, and that's saying a lot — his co-stars in the three-person play were the talented husband-and-wife team of Harold and Maedell Dixon.

Harold Dixon's detective was arrogance with a working-class English accent, and Maedell Dixon's Dee was a bundle of hysterical nerves that just got worse as she drank more and more.

But in the second act, the Dixons both built to an emotional peak too quickly. That robbed the climax of the play of much of its intensity and drama. Harold Dixon, particularly, was at such an impassioned level that when it needed to be higher, it had nowhere to go.

James Blair directed this production with an eye toward clarity. And while it dragged a tad in the first act, it quickly picked up the pace in the second.

"The Business of Murder" is a fun whodunit-and-what-was-dun play. And while it might not have the oomph it could have, it does have Douglas Mitchell. And that's reason alone to go see it.


"The Business of Murder"

•Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
•Playwright: Richard Harris.
•Director: James Blair.
•When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16.
•Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
•Tickets: $22-$25.
•Information: 882-9721.
•Running time: 2 hours, plus one intermission.
•Et cetera: Tickets are half-price a half-hour before a performance.

● Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.