As a connoisseur of mystery both literary and televisual, I jumped at the chance to attend Limelight Theatre‘s production of Corpse! The press releases that we had been receiving described it as a comedy/thriller and since cop comedies (think Brooklyn 99 and Psych) are at the top of my Netflix queue, it seemed tailor-made for me. Generally, the words “comedy” and “thriller” don’t find themselves alongside each other very often, but there’s no better way to describe the crazy, unpredictable (sometimes raunchy) murder mystery. Corpse! isn’t your typical whodunnit and it isn’t your typical slapstick either. It’s an unusual blend of both that Limelight director Matthew Whaley and his cast navigate well.
Without revealing too many of its numerous details and unexpected twists, Corpse! is set in London in 1936, and tells the story of twin brothers, one of whom plots to murder the other in unusual circumstances. Evelyn (played by Chris MacEwan), an out of work actor, engages the genial Irishman Major Powell (played by James Dez Desmond) to do away with his sophisticated and wealthy twin, Rupert (also played by Chris MacEwan). Their plotting in Evelyn’s flat is punctuated by the visits of an outrageous landlady (played by Francesca Bellavista). And of course, as with most foolproof plans, things do not go as they should and people are never what they seem.
Even having seen it on opening weekend (which can often be rocky), the cast is solid and has good comedic timing. Despite their smaller roles, the landlady and the police officer Hawkins (played by Andy Nance) hold their own well and are frequently scene-stealers. Mrs. McGee is theatrical, over-the-top, and delightfully inappropriate with the protagonist. With such a small cast, every role is essential and these two bring the laughs everytime they’re on stage. Major Powell is a marvelously gruff, alcoholic, and occasionally dim foil to the eccentric actor by whom he is engaged. Desmond, though often the straight man to MacEwan’s antics, has his own brand of comedy that blends harmoniously with the rest of the cast.
Chris MacEwan, however, is the heart of the show. He transitions seamlessly from the theatrical Evelyn to the stoic Rupert and back again. It’s difficult enough to portray one character with authenticity but to negotiate two characters (at opposite ends of the personality spectrum) takes real talent. Sure, it would be pretty easy to take both characters to the extreme – one flamboyant and the other flat – but MacEwan gives each subtleties that allow for more depth, give them a connection to each other, and let the audience get a little lost in the confusion that the onstage characters are experiencing.
As with any show, there are a few places that Corpse! falls short. Though it’s supposed to be set in 1936 – a fact solidified by a few lines here and there, certain props, and some of the costumes – that established period is called into question from the first scene. The landlady, Mrs. McGee, comes on stage in very modern clothing (that couldn’t even be called an interpretation of 1930’s female garb). Though the director did mention that the costumes were inspired by Clue and its characters, Mrs. McGee stood out enough that this was hard to see. The other characters look period enough and at first, it almost feels like the actress forgot to put on her costume.
Additionally, the first couple of scenes jump in immediately to the storyline and it moves so quickly that it can be difficult to adjust yourself to what’s going on. It takes a little while to become captivated and create a connection with those on stage. The first few minutes are spent just trying to orient yourself.
Regardless, Corpse! is charming and well worth a trip to the theater. It draws you in and has you constantly curious as to what will happen next. A solid cast makes it more than just slapstick (though you definitely will be laughing) and by the time it’s over, you’ll be wishing there were more to come.
Corpse! runs from March 9-31, Thursdays through Sundays. Shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday begin at 7:30pm and Sunday matinees begin at 2pm. Tickets have been selling out fast, so don’t miss out on your chance to see it!
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.limelight-theatre.org. Photos provided by Limelight Theatre.