Seen something narsty in the woodshed? Missing that ol’ esprit de corpse? Sprinkle a thimbleful of witchy dust on your favorite broomstick and jet over to Theatre Arlington to enjoy an internationally celebrated seasonal delight, Corpse!
Gerald Moon’s 1983 darkly comic thriller takes place in December 1936 on the day of Edward VIII’s abdication, when everyone hurries home to tune in to the King’s history-making radio speech. (Yes, THAT “King’s Speech”). Except for evil brother Evelyn Farrant, who plots to use the national distraction to cover up murdering his wealthy twin Rupert so he can assume his identity and enjoy the spoils of direst deception. Before you dismiss this play as just another PBS snoozer, consider the unique challenge it presents that makes it highly entertaining: the actor cast as evil Evelyn also plays wealthy Rupert.
“The sparkling, ingenious plot twists and turns like a bent, but plucky corkscrew. You’ll die laughing.” Clive Barnes, NY Post
Given its convoluted storyline, cliffhanger entrances and bullet-riddled exits the actor playing both roles makes throughout the play’s course, the play’s a spellbinding tour de force of comic timing and masterful characterization. Like stretching to follow a con man’s shell game, after a while neither the audience nor the other onstage characters know which Farrant brother has been murdered and which one will drive off in the Bugatti with the royal-bred fiancée. Full of hair-raising hilarity, it’s sure to keep audiences teetering at seat’s edge attention.
Theatre Arlington’s version of this tasty crumpet, running through November 13, is a taut, clever production. Up and coming regional director Andy Baldwin assembled an experienced cast well versed in delivering 100% and fine-tuned them with confident precision. Jeff Swearingen smokes as Evelyn/Rupert in white dinner jacket, oozing malevolence and debonair charm while performing transformational physical feats that could require special effects on film.
“If” The Mousetrap” is the thriller for the fifties; “Sleuth” for the sixties: “Deathtrap” for the seventies; “Corpse!” is surely the thriller for the eighties.” LA Times
Judy Keith as Evelyn’s daffy, dipsomaniac, love-smitten landlord, Ben Phillips as a bumbling bear-sized Scotsman hired killer and Shane Roberie as a cherub-cheeked, unsuspecting constable, make entrancing sympathetic foils to Swearingen’s Evelyn/Rupert’s antics while creating merry havoc on their own. British accents? A trace of proper clip pervades, but no one over-masticates the dialogue, as if incomprehensibly chewing yesterday’s bagels. Max Marquez’s detailed, revolving set with a surprise reveal and sinister lighting effects best similar design by larger, better-funded regional companies. Costumes by Meredith Hinton (how many white tux jackets get bloodied?) and eerie sound strategically underscored throughout by Andrea Allmond, give the production genuine fun B-movie thriller ambience.
CORPSE! premiered at the American Stage Festival Theatre in Milford, New Hampshire in 1983 and opened in London in 1984 at the Apollo Theatre with Keith Baxter and Milo O’Shea in its starring roles. Acclaimed by critics, it ran on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre in 1985. Since then, Corpse! has been performed in Sweden, Denmark, Japan, South Africa, Austria, Poland, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain and Germany. Its Australian tour culminated in a smash ten month run in Sydney. The playwright directed its UK tour and assumed the lead role from Dr. Who’s Colin Baker in its second run at the West End.
Gothic goblins gotcha gagged? Escape the mortally mundane with Theatre Arlington’s Corpse! It’s totally alive. Tickets: www.theatrearlington.org, 817-275-7661
As run on Theater Jones and Arlington Magazine on-line