Review: Death in a Black Suit (Scarborough Theatre Guild)

Death in a Black Suit

Death in a Black Suit tells of Life, Death and Suspense on Georgian Bay

Thursday night marked the opening of Scarborough Theatre Guild‘s Death in a Black Suit at the Scarborough Village Theatre. Billed as the ‘Canadian and World Premiere’, the play was penned by Maureen Jennings of ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ fame and is an intriguing, fun, suspenseful murder mystery.

I will admit I’ve never watched any of the ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ stories on TV or read any of the books, but Jennings’ writing pulls you in from the start, so I can certainly understand why so many people have. There were some thick accents used at the top of the show, and just as I was starting to worry that I would be spending the next few hours trying to decipher what the actors could possibly be trying to say, they mercifully let the accents go. It quickly became evident that there was a play within the play, or, to be more specific, a play rehearsal within the play.

Set at a cottage on an island in Georgian Bay (with lots of audience-pleasing local references thrown in), the show follows a day in the life of seven people rehearsing at said cottage. Not-quite-a-spoiler-alert: someone is murdered in the First Act! The story unravels, twists, pauses and twists again until the audience is positive they know who’s responsible, and then it twists some more.

The set pieces worked perfectly to create an Ontarian cottage feel, and I very much liked the look of the fireplace in particular. Maria Steventon’s Costume Design, though simple, was highly effective in distinguishing each character and giving us a sense of their personalities even before we knew anything about them. I felt that the sound effects were a bit abrupt and disconnected, but I was quite impressed by the Intermission song choices, so I suppose it all balanced out in the end.

The performers do a fairly good job of moving the story along, though I would have liked to have seen some more elements of panic and fear in at least a few of the characters throughout the show. The dialogue is so sharp and clever that even some of the weaker cast members were able to find strong moments. Kenny Gallop as Stephen and Scott Jones as Jeff both gave great performances that I found quite memorable. Jones especially added a much-needed energy to his scenes, and though his character was meant to be unlikable, I found myself drawn to him both for his comedic delivery and his smooth, sort of Matthew Lillard-esque charm.

This may be the only time I haven’t been annoyed at people around me whispering during a show – it was entertaining to hear their theories and guesses as to who the murderer was, and then hear them adjust their theories moments later. The writing is strong, the pacing is decent and the cast does a good job of keeping the audience guessing. The story is what will keep your attention, even when the performances waver. And bragging rights go to anyone who manages to figure out the mystery – if only I had seen an episode or two of ‘Murdoch Mysteries’, perhaps I would have seen those last few twists coming.

Details:

  • Death in a Black Suit is playing until December 13th at the Scarborough Village Theatre (3600 Kingston Road)
  • Shows run Thursday – Saturday at 8:00PM, with matinees on December 7th & 13th at 2:00PM
  • Tickets are $20, with discounted $17 tickets for Seniors & Students
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 416-267-9292

Photo by Iden Ford