Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley adds to the chill of this cold winter with a production of Emlyn Williams’ 1930 ghost story, A MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED. Directed by former Hedgerow Fellow (and frequent Guest Artist) Sarah J. Gafgen, this spine-tingler runs from February 19th to March 29th, 2015. Williams has set his tale on the stage of an empty theatre—in the original version, London’s St. James Theatre on King Street. Demolished in the late 1950s, the place was said to be haunted, but then again, most old theatres are. I’m sure the ghost of Jasper Deeter is felt at Hedgerow….
The story deals with the well-off Sir Charles Jasper, an author of a book on the occult. It is his 40th birthday, and he is due to come into an inheritance of 2 million pounds—that is if he doesn’t die before 11 pm, the hour of his birth. Jasper, who is also known to dabble in black magic, is throwing himself a party and hoping that he’ll see the ghost of a man who was murdered at the sight of the festivities. Guests will raid the costume room to dress as ghosts from history—yeah, they’re just asking for trouble, aren’t they.
For this production, we are peeking in on the stage of the Hedgerow Theatre (exact locale unknown). The weathered stone of their former grist mill’s walls adds nicely to creating an eerie atmosphere. And, while Sir Charles is in his element, his secretary and cook are on edge; they keep hearing “things that go bump in the night.” Lady Beatrice Jasper (who’s what we’d now call a “trophy wife”) is equally unsettled—but the fact that she may be unhappy in her marriage adds to her stress level. Her overbearing mother, who hitched her to Sir Charles for his money, definitely isn’t helping. Matters are further complicated by the arrival of a young man claiming to be a reporter (who is lusting after Lady Beatrice) and Sir Charles’ long-lost relative, Maurice Mullins. As the only other surviving member of the family, Mullins will receive the inheritance should Sir Charles die before the appointed hour. After being MIA for years, it’s pretty convenient how he shows up out of nowhere.
The ensemble cast is anchored by current Hedgerow Fellows Joel Guerrero as Sir Charles, Allison Bloechl as Lady Jasper, Brock D. Vickers as Jimmy North and Colleen Marker as Miss Groze, the secretary. Joining them are long-time Hedgerovian Susan Wefel as Mrs. Arthur (Lady Jasper’s mother) and Fellow Lily Dwoskin as a mysterious young lady who appears in Act II. Rounding out the ensemble are Hedgerow newcomers Susan Dewey as Mrs. Wragg, the cook and David Nikolas as Maurice Mullins. Guerrero is terrific, playing Sir Charles’ glee at the macabre goings-on quite nicely; Bloechl is an elegant young lady who will be a nice addition to the company. Vickers continues to deliver strong performances in each production he’s a part of, as does Marker (wonderful work, showing us a conflicted young woman). As always, Wefel is a force to be reckoned, bringing great energy to the role of the domineering mother. Dwoskin is quite chilling in her brief scene as a mysterious young lady who suddenly appears—and scares everyone to death. Dewey has a nice comedic touch in her role as the cook, as well as great warmth. And Nikolas revels in every inch of evil smarminess the character of Mullins offers him.
Director Gafgen does a solid job of keeping the action moving, her directorial touches were subtle but evident throughout. An experienced performer in her own right, you can tell she was able to communicate her ideas to her cast well. The “empty stage” locale gives set designer Zoran Kovcic free rein to dig into Hedgerow’s storage barn and assemble a wonderfully random compilation of old set pieces and furniture to fill the stage. And the ghostly doings allowed Jared Reed to have great fun with the lighting and sound designs. All three go a long way towards creating an appropriately scary mood. Cathy Miglionico’s 1930s costumes are spot-on, as are her “ghost” ensembles the characters don for the party.
If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned thriller, A MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED is the show for you.
A MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED
by Emlyn Williams
Directed by Sarah J. Gafgen
February 19—March 29, 2015
146 W. Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA 19086