A Twisted, Quirky Thriller Comes To Rose Valley: CORPSE! at Hedgerow Theatre

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

Susan Wefel and Carl Smith in a scene from CORPSE! at Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley, PA.

Rose Valley’s Hedgerow Theatre continues their current season with a fast-paced production of Gerald Moon’s comic thriller CORPSE!   Directed by former Hedgerow Fellow (and current Curio Theatre Company member) Liam Castellan, CORPSE! is sort of a thriller as if were written by the Coen Brothers, the script never lets murder get in the way of a good joke.

Set in 1936 Britain, the action unfolds as King Edward VIII is about to abdicate the throne for the love of Wallace Simpson—the perfect distraction to use to cover up our the protagonist’s nefarious plans.    The story deals with estranged twin brothers, one of whom plots to murder the other in the most unusual circumstances.  Evelyn Farrent is a down-on-his-luck, out of work actor who’s tired of his hand-to-mouth existence—and very jealous of his wealthy sophisticated twin, Rupert.  So, of course, the only thing to do is kill him and take over his life.   To that end, Evelyn hires an inept, small-time thief: Irishman Powell, a former Major in the Irish army.    Powell is so desperate for money, he instantly agrees to Evelyn’s harebrained scheme.   Mucking up Evelyn’s machinations are his tipsy landlady, Mrs. McGee and a curious constable named Hawkins.

CORPSE! had its world premiere in Milford, New Hampshire in 1983, with subsequent successful runs both on Broadway and in London’s West End.  Playwright Gerald Moon remains an enigma however. Very little is known about him; several Google searches only produced the following: he has professional acting credits in England and America, has written a few other plays, and currently resides in London.

Castellan keeps the action brisk, and the two leads play quite well off each other.  Carl Smith is great fun to watch as he deftly switches back and forth between playing the hammy Evelyn and the buttoned-down Rupert.   (Powell isn’t the only one who gets confused as to who is who.)    Smith immediately pulls the audience into the story with his performance.   Susan Wefel is a wonderful early foil as his sotted—and besotted—landlady.  Her flirtations with Evelyn—and Evelyn’s skilled avoidance of them—are hilarious.   Shawn Yates gives an equally polished performance as Major Powell; he hits all the right notes as the loser low-life who can’t seem to do anything right.  We don’t meet the final character until the action moves to Rupert’s upscale flat in Act I, scene 2.   There we encounter the overly helpful Constable Hawkins, solidly portrayed by Zoran Kovcic—who, as always, makes the most of his time onstage.

Castellan, a Rose Valley native, has created some wonderful bits of physical comedy in this loopy thriller that has more twists than Philadelphia’s Lincoln Drive.  Smith and Yates (who are both also former Hedgerow Fellows) execute them brilliantly, with Yates being particularly entertaining as things (not surprisingly) start to go horribly wrong.   My only quibble would be Yates’ Irish brogue—it was rather uneven.   But I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to accents; and, since my grandfather came from County Mayo (mentioned in the script), I’m particularly picky about brogues.

Kovcic has given the ensemble a nicely versatile set to play on.   A few shifts of some flats take us from Evelyn’s seedy room to Rupert’s upper echelon residence—I personally think it would be more fun to show the audience the scene changes rather than an act curtain for 2 minutes or so, but that’s just me. Great lights and sound have been created by John Tiedeck (though the volume could be pumped up a bit on the radio broadcast of the king’s abdication speech), and Cathy Miglionico has provided everyone with terrific 1930s ensembles.   Jared Reed choreographed a wonderful sword fight for the climactic scene in Act II that is executed with panache and precision by Smith and Yates.

CORPSE! is a fiercely fun bit of theatre that whizzes by in just over two hours, including the intermission.   Full of surprises and dark, offbeat humor, it will keep you fully engaged the entire time.  As the hustle of the fall season fast approaches, a couple hours of pure escapist fun is just the thing to make the seasonal transition.  CORPSE! runs from August 29th to October 6th, with performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 2pm.   Take a ride to Rose Valley and check it out.

by Gerald Moon
Directed by Liam Castellan
August 29—October 6, 2013
Hedgerow Theatre
64 Rose Valley Road
Media, PA 19063

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