Burlington’s CATHE (Community Art Technology Health Education) Center has been staging theater events since its inception, more than four years ago. So I found myself somewhat surprised when I realized that, though I’ve attended many CATHE events, I’ve never seen a play there before. After seeing tonight’s show, I certainly don’t intend to wait another four years before seeing my next CATHE production.
Murder’s in the Heir is a drawing room murder mystery – like something you might see in a 1940s black and white movie — brought into the modern era and featuring a couple of theatrical twists to break the fourth wall. The show is being staged by CATHE’s Youth Theater group, a company made up of high school and middle school students (and some even younger). Though the quality of performances varies, as one would expect from a group this young, some of the troupe is quite experienced – and many delivered fine, polished performances.
Jessica Cwik, who plays the bitter housekeeper, Mrs. Trent, has been in 14 other plays, and her experience shows in the consistency and emotion she displays in her part. Lauren Wolfson (acting since 4th grade) is also very good as Minerva Walker, the cook, and Callum Leemkuil-Scheuerman steals more than one scene as Rufus Jones, the handiman. The main characters – the greedy Starkweather family and their relations – are also well played, and even the minor roles and bit parts have their chances to shine.
The story is mostly a standard Agatha Christie-type, everyone-has-a-motive mystery, featuring a murder at the end of the first act. The interesting theatrical twist is that the show’s patrons are given a ballot before the show, which they fill out during the intermission, voting for whom they want to be the murderer in the final act. The young players have rehearsed endings for each character, and then perform the ending the audience votes for.
That means that, even beyond the vagaries of live theater, the show I saw tonight may not be the same as the show tomorrow night. (Though it may be, if the audience votes for the same perpetrator.) It’s experiments like that, and ambitious productions like this – with a cast of more than a dozen – that make CATHE a valuable addition to the Burlington community arts scene.
The play is not without its flaws – mostly in the writing, which has an overlong second act that keeps piling on flashbacks while the audience pines to find out “Whodunnit?” Still, the well-staged CATHE production overcomes this shortfall, carried through the slow spots by the youth and enthusiasm of its performers. The play is well directed, and the set is impressive, utilizing the somewhat odd stage space – CATHE was formerly a church – very well indeed.
So, if you’re looking for something fun to do over the next two weekends, if you’re interested in seeing up-and-coming stage talent, or if you just want to support the local arts, you should check out Murder’s in the Heir at the CATHE center. The play runs February 20, 26, and 28, 2010, at 7 pm with a matinee at 2pm on February 21. (There is no show on February 27th.)