WHEATON – Take a high-energy comedic spoof of Agatha Christie-type whodunits, set it in a proper English manor with multiple doors and windows for quick comings and goings, add a script full of malapropisms and puns, a cast full of talented, but decidedly Midwestern actors, and a genuine British director, and you’ve got a recipe for a hilarious production, Wheaton Drama announces as it prepares to stage “Murdered to Death.”
The show, written by Peter Gordon, is directed by Annie Walker-Bright, a British born-and-raised veteran of the Wheaton Drama theater.
“I grew up in England the youngest of four siblings with an Irish mother and father with beautiful lilting Irish brogues,” she stated in a news release. “I lived just outside of London for most of my life as a young girl into my early 20s. I am told I still have, some 50 years later of living in the United States, quite a strong accent, although my relatives when I return home would aggressively disagree.
“Because of my early years in England, I have an ear for a real English accent, whether it be plum-in-the-mouth, Cockney, Irish, Scottish or dialect from some nether region of the UK,” she said. “As a result, I have heard on stage some ‘English accents’ that have left me quivering in horror because I hear them to be strained and nowhere near authentic and sometimes unintelligible.”
But Walker-Bright has learned that success is about ensuring the audience is too busy laughing to spend any time worrying about the authenticity of an accent.
“Obviously, most American audiences do not have the same ear as I do, understandably so,” she said. “Consequently, when I direct English plays, I tend to focus more on an overall presentation. My role as the director of this English murder comedy mystery is to infuse and glean as much humor as I can from a funny, well-crafted script. … Simply making people laugh a lot is my primary directorial vision. If you present a well-formed stage set in 1930s style, furniture, furnishings, costumes, makeup and all the other accoutrements of that time period and location, the audience is subconsciously taken to that place without having to listen and master vastly different accents.”
Not to say the language of “Murdered to Death” isn’t important. In fact, it plays a leading role in some of the humor, with double meanings and malapropisms based on British English. Getting the nuances right is critical, Walker-Bright points out.
“The lead investigator in our mystery is Inspector Pratt, a bumbling, arrogant and clueless detective,” she said. “Pratt, of course, in the Oxford English Dictionary means ‘an incompetent, stupid person,’ or, ‘a person’s buttocks.’ Either way, that sums up our Pratt, and he’s just hilarious.”
Walker-Bright is working to ensure a little mystery and a lot of laughter are at play.
“If the audience comes out of the experience complaining about the lack of English accents, then I have not done my job to suspend reality and put them into an English manor home with an array of colorful characters going about their job to make you laugh,” Walker-Bright said.
The cast features Shannon Bachelder of Wheaton, Jim Martin of West Chicago, Stan Austin of Winfield, Lynda Porter of Lisle, Vince Scalone of Lisle, Charmaine Jones of Glen Ellyn, Mindy Kaplan of South Elgin, Jami Johnson of Geneva, Geoffrey Maher of Arlington Heights and Keith deBolt of Naperville.
If you go
WHAT: “Murdered to Death” presented by Wheaton Drama
WHEN: March 22 to April 14, with shows at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Wheaton Drama, 111 N. Hale St., Wheaton
INFO: 630-260-1820, www.wheatondrama.org