by Jamie Bullins
Beatrice Community Players, Friday, October 23, 2020, 7:30 pm.
Folks may get tired of hearing me say this, but, it’s super exciting to be back in a theatre space, live with performance again. As a culture, in general, we take so many things for granted. It seems live performance (of any type) was absolutely one of those things.
How do creative people create in a pandemic? Well, you offer streaming options to your work, and try your best to make those who will venture out feel safe in your space. And, you might choose a piece that is one performer on stage at a time, eliminating essentially the need to mask (and muffle most likely) your performers. Brilliant. Make the material match the moment. Done.
Beatrice Community Players, my congratulations on succeeding where many insist on attempting to perform what we may consider “normal” work in very abnormal times.
Last evening was my first time visiting the Beatrice Community Players, and they have a nice space in downtown Beatrice, which is pretty charming in and of itself.
Murderers, by Jeffrey Hatcher, is three long monologues that intertwine and are told separately by the performers. Kudos to each one, Mason, Carla, and Jillian for the herculean task of retaining the stories intact and with panache.
Before I say anything about the performers or their individual contributions, the aesthetics of the show carried a welcome simplicity that very well set the stage. The sound, lights, scenic elements, and the costumes all worked together without shifting the focus away from the story. I am always telling my students that it’s not about how many chairs you can put on stage, but what if it’s just one? The spot-on right one chair with a throw. I got the Florida facilities for the elderly feel before the pre-show speech began.
Our first murderer, Gerald (portrayed by Mason Gustafson), takes us on a journey to introduce us to the world of these murderers, each one not the typical thug with a gun. But, as I said before, a character who leads us with panache through their own journey toward the most necessary homicide (or homicides). Gerald is in black tie, and Mason carries the image well throughout. He’s sharp looking and the text is the same (it’s well written).
Next is Lucy (Carla Loemker, returning to the stage after a 50-year hiatus), whose murder has a definite twist, and her weaving of the events reveals quite the clever schemer. Carla tends to underplay the coarser language that she’s given, and the shock value is genuine and quite funny.
To wind up the trio, we meet Minka (Appearing Locally’s own Jillian Carter), who is the more seasoned killer of the three. The bodies pile up significantly during her story before the close. Her character is the more animated of the group, and Jillian’s work fits and finds every opportunity for the humor whenever available. She kills for “justice” and as an audience you will root her on.
When you are handed a 30-minute story to share on stage with a single chair and a beverage to keep the dry throat at bay, how do you maintain the interest of the audience without aimlessly wandering around the stage, or standing in one place too long and shifting your weight back and forth from one foot to the other? That’s the challenge here. The playwright has helped, because the stories are intriguing, and they keep you focused. My grandma didn’t have to get up and wander around the living room while she told me stories growing up. She just sat on the couch and I was hypnotized from start to finish, every time. There are times where the blocking of the actors looks “chosen” or “informed”, one might say. But most of the time it seems pretty natural and inspired by the stories or the characters themselves. That’s when you’re completely engaged with them. Don’t get me wrong, there really wasn’t a time that the movement (or lack of it) ever pulled me out of the world of the performance. Which, in my mind, makes it successful, even if I noticed it, I stayed with them, all the way through.
If you like murder mysteries, Murder, She Wrote; Poirot; Columbo (boy, I’m showing my age here), you should catch this. It’s clever and the performers each have this fascinating charm about them. They’re invested, so, you will be as well.
Thanks again, Beatrice Community Players, for creating successfully in these awkward and challenging times we live in. Maybe someday we won’t be thinking about color-coordinating our masks with our wardrobe. It’s come to that.
If you go: You can catch Murderers in-person, or streaming, October 24, 30, 31 at 7:30 pm and October 25 and November 1 at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online.
Jamie Bullins is a member of the faculty in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at UNL, since the fall of 2017. He is an Educator, Scenographer, Director, and Playwright and has been at it for almost 25 years now.
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