Take a greedy, frisky wife, a bumbling husband, a couple of quirky in-laws, a cup of cocoa and a deep root cellar and mix them all together and you end up with “The Murder Room,” a comical mystery by New Direction Community Theater.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, and I think they’ll have a wonderful time,” said Didi Olney of Lusby, who plays Mavis, a greedy wife. “It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and everyone’s a little wacky. It’s a very difficult world these days so if we can have something we can make fun of and escape for a couple of hours is great.”
The two-hour Jack Sharkey-penned play opens its four-play run tonight in St. Leonard.
“Twenty years ago or so I did this show and played Barry, and I’ve always liked it and was drawn to it because we could get away with things you can’t with a normal show,” said director Keith Mervine, who previously directed “Play On” in 2017 before taking a two-year sabbatical. “And being able to make the show a train wreck and add farce allows you to do that and I love it. We tried to do this in our inaugural season, and we couldn’t get enough people to cast so we put it on the shelf and brought it back nine years later.”
The show takes place around carousing Mavis Templeton Hollister, who returns to Brynwood Cottage in northern England only to find her husband, Edgar, waiting to greet her. And that is very odd indeed considering that earlier she was sure she had killed him.
She quickly finishes the job — again — but his disappearance kickstarts a crazy chain of events complete with plodding police inspectors, mysterious hidden compartments, dull-witted relatives and noisy servants.
“Mavis is psychotic,” said Olney, who is an engineer at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. “She’s managed to secure her feminine wiles to secure Edgar, who she thinks is extremely wealthy and thinks is going to take care of her. But he’s a little stupid, so I need to get rid of him because he found out I was having an affair. I want what’s best for me and only me. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun because you get to totally lose yourself in character and be different.”
Rick Thompson, who had previously directed Mervine in “God’s Favorite” several years back, plays both ill-fated Edgar Hollister and dim-witted detective Abel Howard.
“I’m essentially doing the same [role], but as I’m reading it I’m thinking, ‘OK, I have to do a second British accent’ so that’s why I do the same accent for both of them,” said Thompson, who is retired and lives in Prince Frederick. “I went back and pulled out the accent I used in ‘The Mousetrap’ [from a couple of years ago. Of course, I’m having fun, why would you not want to do schtick?”
Emma Ansell plays daughter Susan Hollister, while Rick Brown portrays her Texan fiance.
“Susan is really energetic, upbeat, happy and kind of naive but she thinks she is [in love],” said Ansell, who lives in La Plata and is a theater major at the College of Southern Maryland. “It’s kind of unlike me because I tend not to be so energetic and happy, but it’s not uncomfortable. I feel it’s something I can pull off.”
Brown, a historical interpreter at Historic St. Mary’s City who said he learned his Texas accent thanks to “a lot of YouTube videos,” said developing chemistry with Ansell didn’t take much time.
“I just dived right into it,” said Brown, who lives in California. “I’m sure it was a little awkward, but I’m generally pretty good with that stuff. It’s pretty fair to say [my character’s] not that smart, but I don’t think anybody in this show is that smart.”
Brown also had to make his character react to some roaming hands from the frisky Olney, who takes an awkward shine to the studly cowboy.
“At first there’s a little bit of a surprise,” he said of his character’s reaction, “but then as things go on it’s more like, ‘This is weird.’”
Mervine said another actress had been slated for the role of Mavis, but after her departure he put Olney in that role.
“We cast a little bit differently because of that, but Didi has picked it up over the rehearsal process to the point where I’m happy with the choice I made,” he said. “Because it was over the summer [when we started rehearsing], we had some people take vacation, so we kind of had people missing. This is the first week we’ve had the full cast, and we’re starting to see the chemistry, especially between the people who need to have the chemistry.”
The six-person cast also features Laurie Foster of Lusby as housekeeper Mrs. Lottie Malloy, and Robert Rausch of Waldorf as detective James Crandall.
“The show is rated PG, pretty goofy and there’s no message to it,” Thompson said. “It’s just a couple hours where you can put your brain in neutral. You won’t come out of it with the meaning of your life changed; you’ll just laugh and enjoy yourself for a couple of hours before you come out to all this stuff going on in the world.”
New Direction Community Theater will stage “The Murder Room” at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4, Saturday, Oct. 5, Friday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 12, at Long Beach Community Center, located at 5845 Calvert Blvd. in St. Leonard.
Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors, students and military. For more information, go to www.ndctheater.org/current-show.