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Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

Human Race Theatre Company
Review by Rick Pender

Also see Scott's recent review of White Christmas

The Cast
Photo Courtesy of Human Race Theatre Company
A piece of common wisdom for creative writers is to "write what you know." Canadian playwrights Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes have teamed up to write a handful of murder mysteries, and they apparently hewed to that dictum with Deadline, their new script getting its world premiere at Dayton's Human Race Theatre Company. It's a story about a playwriting team pressed by a ridiculous "deadline" to complete a script by a more established writer who has died unexpectedly.

In fact, Dan (Josh Aaron McCabe) and Mara (Kelly Mengelkoch) have just a week to add to the first scene of Bloody Relations, a script that Chris Hargate was working on for a Broadway premiere. Their manic agent Dean (Andrew Ian Adams) tells them what a big break it is–and of course, it's a financial opportunity for him.

It's an almost impossible assignment for writers who have had no more than modest success. But they gamely start by reading aloud the 25 existing pages. As they do various voices, the wall of their office set slides open, and we see four characters observing a burial at sea from the deck of the luxury yacht Feronia. It's a farewell to a wealthy woman, Violet Bloodworth, and those sending her off are her attorney Bartholomew (Barry Mulholland), her greedy heirs Devorah (Christine Brunner) and Tabitha (Adelyn Rae Helms), and her trainer Trevor (a second role for Andrew Ian Evans).

As Dan and Mara continue to read the lines Hargate drafted, the actors in the scene mouth the words then gradually use their own voices as Dan and Mara become characters themselves, he as Violet's profligate, surfer-dude son Silas and she as Meredith, another daughter. McCabe and Mengelkoch slide back and forth between being confused playwrights and colorful role players. (Mengelkoch, a veteran member of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, was the understudy for Mara/Meredith, but due to a cast illness, she has flawlessly and energetically stepped into these roles.)

The usual suspicions and red herrings litter the story's path as the yacht's crew has abandoned ship. One character is poisoned, another is bludgeoned, and two more are shot. A ticking bomb seems on the verge of exploding. Dan and Mara are dismayed to be sucked into Hargate's concept as characters in the mystery. But they also recognize that they have the means to protect themselves and finish the script. How this all is possible is never really explained–thunder-and-lightning flashes as well as clichéd musical clues indicate that something mysterious is happening. Without understanding how this is happening, Dan and Mara decide to play along. Of course, by the end of the two-hour production the mystery is unraveled, and the playwrights miraculously have a completed script in hand, just in the nick of time. Don't expect a full explanation–just a little more mystery.

Mengelkoch does a fine job conveying the exasperated and bemused Mara, as well as the refined Meredith, whose British accent Mara has a hard time shaking as the story unfolds. McCabe pushes the physical aspect of Silas (using an awkward posture and sunglasses at the end of his nose) in a way fitting to that character, but he also plays playwright Dan in more two-dimensional comical way.

This is, of course, not just a murder mystery, but a murder mystery comedy, so director Jason Podplesky has clearly encouraged his actors in the direction of exaggerating their characters for the sake of humor. Nevertheless, for my money, having McCabe be a little more subdued as the playwright might have made Silas all the more amusing.

Ray Zupp's scenic design is noteworthy: The playwrights' drab office features two desks and a soiled wall with posters for their shows but where the shadows of previously hung art remain. When the fantasy of the mystery launches the wall slides open to convert into a posh stateroom. The desks break down into a couch and chairs, a swanky bar is furnished with stainless steel martini glasses, and a rail overlooks the Caribbean. The transition is as swift and smooth as Dan and Mara's being sucked into the action.

Kash and Hughes' script touches all the bases of classic mysteries, although the characters could have been drawn with a bit sharper finesse. Nevertheless, fans of such tales will enjoy the twists and turns–and the surprising ending.

Deadline runs through November 20, 2022, at Human Race Theatre Company, Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main Street, Dayton OH. For tickets and information, please visit or call 937-228-3630.