Review: Despite Good Cast, 'The Murder Room' Gets Tiresome

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 12, 2021

Sarah Wolf and James Brown in "The Murder Room"
Sarah Wolf and James Brown in "The Murder Room"  (Source:Mike Daniels)

Providence's Barker Playhouse has kicked off its new season with the comedy/mystery "The Murder Room."

The action takes place in a small English village, where Mavis Hollister returns home one evening and is questioned by her eccentric husband Edgar (James Brown) about her whereabouts. They quarrel. Mavis reveals she is unhappy, even though they just got married earlier that day!

Mavis pulls out a gun and shoots Edgar. Guess they should have tried couples therapy.

The other characters are Lottie (Gabriela Sanchez), the Hollisters' loyal housekeeper; the intrepid Inspector Crandall (Kevin Brunton), who is investigating Edgar's disappearance; a friendly constable named Abel; Mavis' vapid stepdaughter, Susan; and Susan's amiable, and very wealthy, boyfriend Barry (Louis Peterman), an American.

There is also the business about Edgar's missing cat, which may have been poisoned, the terms of Edgar's will, and the identity of Mavis' lover, but the revelation really isn't that interesting.

Unfortunately, playwright Jack Sharkey has stuffed the story with one unbelievable contrivance after another. If Agatha Christie had ever written something this absurd, she would have lost a large portion of her fan base.

What is the nature of the room in the basement and the hidden staircase under a window seat? There is a mysterious painting of Edgar's deceased first wife hanging on the living room wall. You won't find a property like this listed on Zillow.

There are so many surprises that the characters' motivations are rendered hopelessly illogical as a result.

There is also some question as to whether or not Mavis even killed Edgar. If he's not dead, where is he?

The details that answer that question might not have mattered as much if the play had been funny. Many of the gags fall flat, and the climax is more laborious than wacky. The pacing was also off. The first act lasted a nearly interminable 90 minutes. By that point, the audience was ready to go home.

The actors, under the direction of Mike Daniels, gamely try to generate laughs from this material.

As Mavis, Sarah Wolf is a glamorous and conniving femme fatale who is after Edgar's money. It's a wonderfully campy and over the top portrayal, but even so it gets tiresome after a while.

Sanchez earns some laughs as Lottie tries to navigate the insanity surrounding her.

Newcomer Ryan Foster is vibrant and appealing as Susan, who cheerfully proceeds with her marriage plans despite her father's absence. She's a nitwit, but her heart is in the right place. Brown is also dynamic and charming in a dual role.

There isn't one bad performance in the show. I'd love to see this group of performers working from a decent script.

I appreciated Dan Clement's stunning set design, and Vicky Peck Hollman's colorful costumes were a sheer delight.

Despite the cast and crew's valiant efforts, "The Murder Room" left me feeling cheated and exhausted.


"The Murder Room" runs through October 17. The Players at Barker Playhouse. 400 Benefit St., Providence. For tickets, visit www.playersri.org or call 401-273-0590.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.