Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Without giving too much away, the plot focuses on mystery script writer Elliott Nash who lives with his wife Nell, a TV soap opera actress, in their Long Island home. Their neighbor Harlow is an assistant district attorney who often helps Elliott with the finer criminal details of his scripts. Elliott considers himself a city boy who isn't too keen on their country home as he prefers living in hotels with room service while Nell loves living on Long Island and has even arranged for a gazebo to be built in their backyard. When Elliott is blackmailed, he decides to take matters into his own hands by killing the blackmailer, but where to bury the body?
Written by Alec Coppel, who co-wrote the screenplay for the classic 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo, The Gazebo had a Broadway run in the 1958-1959 season and was adapted into a film that was released later in 1959. Coppel has managed to create interesting characters and situations. However, he incorporates a number of unnecessary plot elements and character traits that are never fully fleshed out. While some of those could be seen as red herrings, the majority are either complete oddities (Elliott sabotaging the house to convince Nell to sell it and move back to the city, and talk of his constant snacking) or come completely out of left field (Elliott and Nell speaking in German at one point). The second act could also be tightened up. Fortunately, the main plot is fully fleshed out without any loose ends and has some twists that are both fun and shocking as well as a fairly good act one ending that keeps the audience guessing, and an ending that ties everything up. Coppel even includes a fun Hitchcock bit, assumedly a tie-in to his association with the director.
The Hale cast are all very good and adept at playing both the humorous and dramatic moments the play requires. As Elliott, Rob Stuart has the right combination of confusion, stress, fear and concern for a man who is under pressure due to being blackmailed and plotting a murder. Stuart has appeared in dozens of Hale productions and his natural acting ability with, heightened facial expressions and good physical comedic skills, is a good fit for this confused and somewhat bumbling murderer. As the headstrong Nell, Virginia Olivieri is outgoing, personable, upbeat and bright. She looks gorgeous in the stylish period-perfect costumes by Celia Erickson and her heightened reactions work beautifully for a woman who is content in her married and professional life but then becomes confused and concerned once the plot unfolds and she learns her husband is a murderer. You also believe that she and Stuart are a married couple due to their natural interaction with each other. They play off each other quite well as the tensions mount.
As Harlow, Karl Haas is wonderful. He is warm and charming with a natural line delivery and clear connections to his fellow cast mates which helps to create an entirely believable character. Adam Guinn is hilarious as three very different comical characters, including the hard-nosed detective who investigates the murder. Karissa Anderson has fun as Matilda Beecher, the Nash's maid. Understudy Joshua South was great as a high stung hoodlum at the performance I attended; Bobby Jean Owensby is good as a nosey real estate agent, and Jayvan Bailey is charming as a policeman.
Director Tim Dietlein does a fairly good job and the in-the-round staging keeps the audience engaged and provides an intimate connection with the actors. While the comic insanity that leads up to the murder is well directed, there are some pacing issues in the second act that slow the action down as well as some oddly directed entrances and exits (Olivieri's first exit from the living room set is out one door, but when she comes back in just a few minutes later it is through another one). Also, while the set elements by Brittany Arwine are good and fit well with the 1960s setting, the limitations of the in-the-round stage, where the living room set is permanent throughout, come into play since the only other area to have a large gazebo set is in the corner balcony area. That makes it seem like the entire house is sunken, with the front door of the house oddly tucked under the backyard.
There is a line in the show that Harlow says to Elliott about how it's frightening how guilty his scripts can make an innocent man look. Alec Coppel's script shows that it can also be hilarious when the man is guilty and is trying to make himself look innocent. While there are some pacing issues and the script is a bit overlong, The Gazebo at Hale is an entertaining and intriguing comical murder mystery with a great cast, some laughs, and a murder that quickly and humorously snowballs frantically out of control.
The Gazebo runs through May 23, 2023, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Performances are on Mondays and Tuesdays. For tickets and information, please visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181
Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein