This review appeared in The Davis Enterprise on 3/13/07.
Monk Ferris may not exactly be a household name.
“Monk Ferris” is the nom de plume of a writer named Jack Sharkey, who started his career as a copy writer for Sears Roebuck, went on to write novels, science fiction, humor articles, and mysteries, and ultimately began writing stage plays. Prior to his death in 1992, Sharkey had written some 82 plays under his own name and four other names, one of which was Monk Ferris.
As “Mike Johnson” Sharkey wrote stage thrillers; as “Monk Ferris” he wrote comedies.
“Let’s Murder Marsha,” written in 1984 and currently running at the Winters Community Theater, under the direction of Trent Beeby, seems to be a blend of stage thriller and comedy which spoofs the world of campy murder mystery novels.
The script is never going to win any writing awards. There are lots of inconsistencies, lots of things that happen just because they need to get characters off stage for a few minutes (how many of you take your guests into the dining room “to show them where they are going to eat”?), and it seems to fizzle out in the overly long second act, but none of that mattered to the audience, which laughed appreciatively at the funny one-liners and the ludicrous situations and seemed to be having a great time.
Marsha Gilmore (Joanie Bryant) is the wife of wealthy stockbroker Tobias (Greg Lanzaro). Marsha’s secret passion is “sleazy slasher novels,” which she hides because her husband disapproves of their content. As the play opens, she is concerned because she has lost her current novel, “The Creeping Slasher,” which is overdue at the library. She enlists the aid of her maid, Bianca (Janette Dahn) and there follows a series of comings and goings and misheard conversations worthy of a French bedroom farce, which all lead to Marsha coming to the conclusion that her husband is plotting to kill her, with the assistance of his new girlfriend.
In truth, Tobias has purchased a sea plane as a birthday gift for his wife (though it is impossible to imagine the air-headed Marsha as the pilot of a plane. That is only one of the points where the audience is asked to suspend disbelief!). To assist him in the surprise, Tobias has hired interior decorator Persis Devore (Jenell Novello), to help with the design of the plane’s interior (we also aren’t sure how Tobias can be choosing upholstery the night before he is to give the plane to his wife...but let that pass too).
The cast seems unsure of whether Devore is pronounced with a silent e at the end or not and I was convinced that once she had been invited to stay for dinner, as a cover-up for the real reason why she was in the apartment, that she would be required to eat with her leather coat on, as nobody ever seemed to ask her to remove it.
The maid suggests that Marsha enlist the aid of a neighbor, Virgil Baxter (Jim Hewlett), a pharmacist who has his own secrets, with the murder of her husband, which she feels is her only defense against her own untimely demise. Baxter agrees to concoct some sort of odorless, tasteless poison which will leave no clues for police following the poisoning of Tobias and his assumed mistress.
Again there are more comings, goings, prop switches and the entrance of Marsha’s mother, Lynette Thoren (Germaine Hupe) to further confuse things.
Over the course of the evening, the cast attempts to eat dinner several times, never all at the same time (and all off stage). I lost track of whether the soup was supposed to be hot or cold, actually.
Conveniently, after Bianca accidentally drinks the poison (or so everyone thinks), her boyfriend shows up. Ben Quade (Ben Moroski) just happens to be driving a police ambulance in which he can carry whichever people need to be transported, whether for medical attention or arrest.
It’s all very silly, makes no sense whatsoever, and yet many in the audience were still chuckling as they filed out of the auditorium.
And isn’t that what theater is all about? Leaving them all entertained?
Kudos to the costume crew, which is listed as “the cast, JoAnn May, and Trent Beeby.” It was fun to see how all the colors blended with each other and with the walls and furniture of the apartment, without being obvious about it.