By Katie Massie
Math teacher and new director Janna Kerpelman’s lighthearted influence suffused two consecutive evening shows of It’s Murder in the Wings!, which opened on May 16 and drew praise for its individual performances but some criticism for its script.
Written by Pat Cook as a farcical comedy, the play was somewhat of a departure from past spring productions and the types of plays Drama Teacher Mark Lindberg tends to select, cast and audience members said, especially in contrast to this year’s dark winter show, Assassins.
Set in one room with at least one of the 13 cast members onstage at all times and no breaks in scene until intermission, It’s Murder in the Wings! tracks a series of unfortunate events that occur during a party held at the eponymous Wings Publishing Company in celebration of its signing renowned author Lionel Upshaw. Much to the employees’ dismay, the head of the company, Mr. Moon, is discovered dead just before the party is about to begin. The company surmises that Lionel’s is not an accidental death but a murder. Chaos promptly ensues.
“It was lighter and funnier than past shows,” said Tynan Friend ’15, who starred in Assassins but sat in the audience this spring. “More of what you’d think of as a traditional high school play.”
Mr. Lindberg concurred.
“It’s an important genre of theater that we don’t do much here—light farce,” he said. “I was glad to see it get done.”
Others, however, found the show’s shallow ebullience boring.
“It was too predictable for me,” spectator Ali Sloan’16 said. “I thought the actors put on a really good show and did a great job playing their roles, but I didn’t love the storyline.”
Audience member Andrew Kellogg-Peeler ’17 also said the plot was somewhat foreseeable.
“It was pretty clear what was going to happen,” he said, “and the people sitting next to me correctly picked out the killer early on.”
He added, however, that the play’s predictability did not take away from his viewing experience.
“It was a comedy posing as a mystery, as opposed to an actual mystery, so it wasn’t supposed to be suspenseful,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, especially since you could see that the actors were having fun.”
Still, actor Sophie Attie ’16, who played Nelva Odell, a bank worker from whom the company is trying to receive a loan, agreed with Ali about the hindrances presented by the plot.
“I think Ms. Kerpelman did an amazing job making a good show from a not-so-good script,” she added.
Cast members said the two directors’ differences were also apparent in their coaching styles.
“The difference between them is not only the colorful language,” said Demetra Vernet ’16, who played the Wings Publishing Company’s editor, Maddie, and was in last year’s winter musical Pipe Dream under Mr. Lindberg. “Mr. Lindberg tells it like it is more than Ms. Kerpelman does.”
Alec Gustafson ’15, who played Maxie Dunsill, a scriptwriter hired to figure out how to hide a body, and who was in Mr. Lindberg’s production of The Laramie Project last spring, added that Ms. Kerpelman is more likely to be concerned with an actor’s feelings in her instruction.
“Ms. Kerpelman is more of a supportive and loving director, compared to Mark’s heartless approach,” he said jokingly.
Sophie’s father, Ken Attie P ’16 ’16, who was in the audience for both productions and whose daughter was also in Mr. Lindberg’s Assassins this winter, saw one quality the directors have in common: their choices of original material.
“Both directors have provided the students with imaginative interpretations to work with,” he said.
Ms. Kerpelman said she was proud of her actors’ interpretation of their roles.
“I think my cast did an excellent job,” she said. “Comedies can be tough to perform, but my cast members worked hard to deliver their lines with the appropriate comedic timing and intonation.”
Demetra attributed part of the show’s success to the audience, whose energy she said fueled the cast.
“It was such a bonus for us to have such a responsive audience because it definitely benefitted our performances,” Demetra added. “There was so much laughter, and the energy was great.”
The two productions of the show were held at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday night, with the opening performance being the cast members’ clear favorite.
“Friday night was definitely the best performance,” said Demetra. “We had a larger audience, there was more laughter, and we just fed off the audience’s energy.”
“The overall energy was better Friday night,” Ms. Kerpelman agreed.
The discrepancy in audience size—Friday’s show sold out, while Saturday’s production played to a half-full auditorium—is normal and has a lot to do with accessibility, Ms. Kerpelman said. Mr. Lindberg also noted that “returning for a Saturday show takes more effort.”
Turnout regardless, Ms. Kerpelman concluded her directorial debut with pride and satisfaction.
“Everyone worked incredibly hard to put on the best show that they possibly could,” she said.