Sunday, October 10, 2010

Secondary Cause of Death, Sam Bass Community Theatre, September 24 - October 16

Maggie McGuinness as Lily, Veronica Prior as Cynthia Maple (image: SBCT)

The Sam Bass players put their energy and ingenuity into Peter Gordon’s Secondary Cause of Death and I did get some smiles from it. The Round Rock thespian crew under Lynn Beaver's direction were performing the equivalent of CPR on a piece that probably should have been selected for unfavorable triage at a much earlier date.

With this play the British playwright wrote the second in his “Inspector Pratt” trilogy, a follow-up to his Murdered to Death, done successfully last year at the Sam Bass Community Theatre. That was a parody of the never-out-of-print-and-ever-popular Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple” series of detective stories. In addition to “Miss Joan Maple” played by Veronica Prior, the murder-in-the-mansion story featured Frank Benge as Inspector Pratt ( = in British slang, “idiot”), a sort of looming English version of Inspector Clouseau. Richard Dodwell was the old chap retired colonel from India. That play wound up in the classic confrontation in the drawing room, during which (spoiler alert!) Miss Maple herself was revealed to be the culprit and the colonel’s good wife went off to the loony bin.

Michelle Swain as Nurse Parsley, Frank Benge as Inspector Pratt (image: SBCT) A general rule of thumb in the cinema is that follow-up pieces, the ones bearing those Roman numerals II, III, IV and so on, are not going to be as good as the originals. The surprises of the initial story become familiar background, the thrill is gone, and one waits to see the ingenuity of the scriptwriters and the director. Infrequently, it works – if one has the resources and the imagination of, say, George Lucas or of Gene Rodenberry and the fleet of creative teams that followed him. Even the playwriting trio of Jones, Hope & Wooton managed it, because the antics of their insane Futrelle sisters have some outrageously silly things to say to us about contemporary small town Texas. (Check out their newest in a Sam Bass exclusive in December.)

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