A lighthearted murder

‘A Murder Most Novel’

L.R. Elaina Henderson, Guy Wicke, Stephen J. Bryant, Taylor Toms. (Photo by Stephen Bryant)
L.R. Elaina Henderson, Guy Wicke, Stephen J. Bryant, Taylor Toms.
(Photo by Stephen Bryant)

3 stars

It’s the 1940s and veteran detective Max Forthright (Guy Wicke) is throwing a lavish party to celebrate the publication of his upcoming memoirs.

Max has invited a number of distinguished guests including his best friend (the square jawed man of action) screen actor Roman Powell (Stephen J Bryant) accompanied by the lovely young socialite Ainsley Hyde (Taylor Toms) whose father is a well-known politician.

Also in attendance are Max’s publisher Percy Galavanter (Grant Alsup), author Mordecai Van Der Wright (Nick Strauss) who has written a number of successful mysteries, Franklin Goggins (Elliot Lerner) a war hero recently returned from action, gossip columnist Genevieve Wrankle (Katie Incardona) and a number of others, many of whom have been involved in one or more cases Max has solved with the aide of his brilliantly well-organized (and generally under employed due to the social norms of the times) secretarial assistant Bernadette “Bern” Hargreaves (Elaina Henderson).

Before long there is a shot and the discovery of a body causing the entire assemblage to turn to Max to identify the killer in “A Murder Most Novel.”

Produced by Death & Pretzels, written by Alex Butschli and directed by Madison Smith with original music by Andrew Milliken, “A Murder Most Novel” is presented as a live radio performance complete with sound effects by Milliken with the assistance of stage manager Lili Bjorklund.

This humorous fast-paced tongue in cheek two-act noir-melodrama has a little something for everyone – murder, intrigue, orphans, cigarette commercials and endless non-sequiturs involving eels.

The fun begins somewhat incidentally when you arrive at the deco era, former industrial building on Ravenswood Avenue. If you elect to ride the original (now self-service) double-gated elevator to the fourth floor for Nox Arca Theater, this experience will set the mood in terms of time travel as surely as Dr. Who’s phone booth.

The performance space is small, seating only about 30 or so, but the intimacy adds to the feeling that you are watching a live radio play in a vintage broadcast studio.

Each of the actors save Wicke and Henderson, perform multiple roles and seemingly have a great time with the campy humor, especially Nick Strauss who also plays a wealthy dowager and Toms as the perfectly clueless vamp.

This is a cleverly written and well-performed production that is a perfect date-night or enjoyable lighthearted entertainment for all ages.

DETAILS”: “A Murder Most Novel” is at Nox Arca Theatre. 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, through Dec. 14, 2019. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For ticket and information visit Death and Pretzels.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


When comedy expresses pain at ‘International Falls’


Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle ( Pphoto by Katie Reynolds)
Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle ( Pphoto by Katie Reynolds)

4 stars

Set in a Holiday Inn hotel room in International Falls, Minnesota, traveling comedian Tim has come to the end of the road while front desk clerk Dee wants to escape her life. Together they explore the use of comedy to mask their sadness and express their pain.

Tim (Sean Higgins) shares his unsuccessful quest to find his own unique voice and urges Dee (Marie Weigle) to find hers, stressing that honesty and authenticity is what is important.

In “International Falls,” playwright Thomas Ward evidently understands that struggle and has clearly met the challenge writing some of the most authentic and honest dialogue I have ever heard on stage.

Presented by by the Agency Theater Collective in partnership with End of the Line Production, Ward’s brilliant dialogue comes to life as spoken by Higgins and Weigle. You feel like you are sitting in their hotel room witnessing the events unfold.

Higgins’ cringingly awkward stand-up asides are perfectly painful and his obvious discomfort with himself combined with false bravado is portrayed with appropriate nuance.

Weigle’s pent up frustration, emerging confidence and vulnerability is palpable but never goes over the top.

The blocking was seamless and meaningful.

The naturalness of the actors can only be achieved when they have a critical eye assuring them that what they are doing is right.

Director Cody Lucas clearly gets credit for pulling this small ensemble together into a beautiful unified performance. Orchestrating the emotional level with symphonic accuracy, Lucas dials up the emotions to peak levels that never gets shrill, then dials them back down to create a needed contrast that keeps the audience engaged and caring about the characters.

This voyeuristic experience is further enhanced by the intimate setting of the Nox Arca Theatre which is actually a small industrial space on the 5th floor of a concrete loft building on the corner of Irving Park in the Ravenswood corridor. Scenic Designer Soli Eisenberg has done a brilliant job of incorporating the natural elements of the room to create the effect.

By the way the music mix before the show began was awesome.

DETAILS: “International Falls” is at Nox Arca Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave, #405. Chicago, through August 31, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information visit We Are the Agency.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago