The whodunnit “Accidentally Wealthy,” now at the Chapman Theater through Sunday afternoon, is not accidentally a success.
It was an intentional work of comic theater, both by the playwright Earl Lewin who flew down from Maryland for the performance, and by the cast, a talented mix of newcomers and veterans of the Panhandle Players acting troupe, and by the director, Renee Valentine, from Port St. Joe.
Valentine didn’t have an easy go of it, having to find replacements well into rehearsals for at least two key roles.
She succeeded mightily in the casting of two newcomers – a male, Graham Dewsbury, from Port St. Joe, in the role of the show’s matriarch, Edith; and a female, Maria Nichols, from Apalachicola, in the role of Edith’s daughter Grace, a young newlywed.
Grace is about to embark on a second marriage to Reggie (Rob Pierce), a widower with a questionable past, marked by an inquest into his two earlier wives’ deaths, which exonerated him in the law’s eyes, but perhaps not among the handful of guests he has invited to his palatial estate in the hills near Valley Forge, outside of Philadelphia.
Both actors are European-born, Dewsbury in the United Kingdom and Nichols in Switzerland, and the accents from the homelands from which they emigrated decades ago, and retain to this day, added to the show’s intrigue.
Both were every bit the woman, Dewsbury done up in a white wig that radiated Margaret Thatcher, and Maria in a fetching outfit that properly accentuated her lithe figure. In their energy and delivery, both showed the power that freshness can bring to the stage.
Valentine made a smart move in casting them, just as she did with other Players newcomers.
Pierce, from St. George Island, who’s been in two shows for Players, is about to star in April in the two-person show Greater Tuna, across from one of local theatre’s most prolific veterans, Royce Rolstad. Pierce was suave as the imagined killer, and Rolstad, played to the flamboyant hilt the gay character in this weekend’s show, Stan, who brings out most of the lusty laughs the show has to offer.
Even more of the sharp-tongued sarcastic laughs are the province of Lorri-Anne Tate, from St. George Island, new to Players, who brought to a consistent bitchiness the role of Sylvia. Tate is a veteran of community theater from back in Georgia and that experience showed in her impressive mastery of the role.
The two other veterans who appear in the show, Bob Inguagiato and Jeana Crozier, from Apalachicola, as the down-to-earth married couple Barry and Betty, were no less polished in their roles, anchoring the show with talent rooted in stagecraft fundamentals, of consistent delivery, especially projecting their voices so they can be easily heard. This is a theatre fundamental that a few others in the cast would be well-advised to emulate in the show’s final performances Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
The show is solid, as are the performances, although the latter was hampered a bit by the former. The play itself is intriguing, a nicely imagined piece of writing with plenty of sharp lines and clever dialogue. At times, though, the pacing slowed, not because the actors weren’t up to the task, but due to their having to verbalize too much. Trimming back some instances of repetitive dialogue would further enhance a script that has a lot to like in it.
Lewin wrote the play in 2015, one of a dozen shows he’s written after retiring from a business career in 2001 to co-author murder mystery musicals, which were booked at restaurants in Maryland, with one even going to New York to be done off-Broadway.
Lewin was here to visit his son and daughter-in-law and a new grandson on St. George Island, and was in the audience Friday to take in the show, staged for the first time since it debuted seven years ago in Maryland.
“I enjoyed it, it was great to see it after all those years,” he said afterwards. “It was really funny and they did a good job. Plus they had a wonderful audience.”