The Bowie Community Theatre describes its production of Jack Sharkey's "The Murder Room" as what might result "if Monty Python were tasked with rewriting an Agatha Christie murder mystery."
That preview indeed prepares audiences for this madcap show, running through Nov. 15 at Bowie Playhouse.
Sharkey's farcical whodunit begins when gold-digging bride Mavis Templeton Hollister leaves cocoa laced with cyanide for her groom, Edgar Hollister, on their wedding night, then departs for a rendezvous with her lover.
When Mavis later finds her husband is very much alive, she resorts to shooting him dead, disposes of the body and reports him missing.
More insanity follows with the introduction of police officers, sassy housekeeper Lottie and relatives including Susan, Edward's dimwitted daughter from his first marriage, and her American millionaire boyfriend, Barry Draper — who planned to wed at Susan's family home.
Surrounding this cast of characters are a baffling number of clues and rapid plot twists.
Bowie's production is skillfully directed by Gayle Negri, who first staged the play 25 years ago. She said she relished the challenge of conducting this "wacky journey," and for this production has assembled a team of actors who bring hilarity to the mystery.
Rapid-fire farce action is a must in a show such as this. There are rare instances when an actor misses a beat, though the pacing here is generally brisk and engaging, with an ensemble that's truly polished on the material. Each actor maintains a credible British accent — or one that's appropriate to the character throughout the performance.
Adding to the mix are the technical crew's skilled lighting and sound, set design and costume artistry. Special effects, such as trick furniture and secret compartments, start in the cellar and end in a bench hidden in the upstairs bay window.
The program credits special stage effects to Roger Paradis, who is due high praise for the gadgets that make the room in the title so murderous.
As Mavis, Erica Smith is credible and funny as she conveys determination to attain wealth and power with little concern for pain inflicted on those in her way.
Smith's diva often conveys these shocking goals with bumbling humor and agitation as she invents stories to fit each new twist. Smith relates naturally to every character from Edgar to Lottie to Susan to police inspector James Crandall.
Smith commands her every scene, and she does wonders for a vintage 1950s wardrobe.
William Hardy is near perfect as Edgar, with a suitable British accent always in place and the spot-on demeanor of an upper-crust Englishman.
The versatile Hardy also plays the role of Constable Abel Howard, a young dynamo who rides a woman's bike and repeatedly trips and falls with rare comic grace.
Brian Binney is riotously funny as Inspector Crandall, drinking brandy to clear his head and struggling to follow the absurd stories concocted by Mavis and Lottie. Binney's character also has a few well executed surprises to spring throughout the evening.
As maid Lottie Malloy, Liz Dapo steals nearly every scene as she relates her version of the peculiar events that have transpired in the Hollister cottage.
Perfectly and hilariously cast as Susan is a real-life Georgetown University doctoral student Caity Brown. Portraying a character who is the dimmest bulb in the chandelier, she comically confuses everyone, from the well-intentioned Constable Howard to her devoted and increasingly confused boyfriend, Barry.
Joel Consolati adds to the merriment as Barry, especially comical as he struggles to maintain his patience in the face of Susan's baffling stories.
When this comical group gathers in Agatha Christie tradition to answer Inspector Crandall's questions — and thus reveal whodunit — we see just how insanely funny murder can be.
"The Murder Room" will be performed at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9, and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Bowie Community Theatre, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive. Call the box office at 301-805-0219 to order tickets.