Pit & Balcony's Regional Premiere of a Dark Comedy About Seismic Shifting of Generational Proportions

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, ,   From Issue 904   By: Robert E Martin

29th October, 2020     0

                                      “The truth is, we are murdered by our ancestors.Their dead hands stretch forth from the tomb and drag us down.                       - Richard Jeffries

As their 89th season continues, Pit & Balcony Community Theatre will be presenting the regional premiere of playwright Dan Nigro’s dark comedy, The Winkleigh Murders, in a series of live virtual performances on November 13,14 & 15  that within the safety and solitude of one’s home will allow each audience member to focus upon the intricately woven plot and emotional dynamics involved in this very different and challenging production.

Taking place in the early 20th century on the Winkleigh estate, which is located in the bucolic hills of Devon, the narrative focuses upon five characters: Bronwyn, the young and beautiful orphaned heiress of Winkleigh, who along with her companion Imogen - an orphaned ward of Bronwyn’s late parents - are entertaining two very different house guests that are friends of Bronwyn’s dead brother Edward by flirting with them while the estate’s gardener’s bastard son named Willy lusts after the women and dreams of murdering the men. Bronwyn’s late father was somewhat demented and her mother hung herself in a windmill on the estate, and her mother was always plagued with terrible dreams about Zeppelins.

Within this milieu of repressed desires, brutal violence, and a labyrinth of increasingly disturbing family secrets that are revealed, this extremely funny and sardonic mystery slowly unfolds.  Cedric enjoys killing things, Charlies likes to look at things, Bronwyn likes to drive men insane, Imogen appears lost, while Willy is filled with constant lust.

Inspired by an old Edwardian photograph that was sent to the playwright by a girl in a boxcar, this dark comedy slowly evolves and opens it  lens upon larger themes involving the end of Western civilization as we know it, which makes it even more timely in the current uncertainties of our COVID age.

The five characters in The Winkleigh Murders are performed by actors Spencer Beyerlein as Willy; Erica Close as Bronwyn; Shawn Finney as Cedric; Matt Kehoe as Charles; and Meagan Lambertson as Imogen.

For director Todd Thomas, with the actions of this mid-aristocratic family set near the end of World War, he views much of the onus of this production as a metaphor. “The playwright uses this play as a metaphor, specifically of the shift of England from Edwardian to modern times,” he explains. “But it can be also seen as a metaphor of any large scale and traumatic change.”

“The focus is on a troubled family that includes one woman from the Winkleigh family (Bronwyn), another who was raised as a ward of the Winkleighs (Imogen) and a stable boy who was the illegitimate son of the hired help (Willy),” he continues.

“Edward, the brother of Bronwyn, has recently committed suicide and two of his friends, Cedric and Charles, are the remainder of the cast. While both of these were friends of Edward, they could not be more different as Cedric is the manly man, chasing skirts, hunting and carousing while Charles is more reserved, a reader and a photographer.”

“The narrative of the play is between this intimate group and as a result, can be very raw. We learn more and more about the relationships and why they are what they are through a steady drip of information throughout the play. But while the complexity of relationships is not clear immediately, we very often have insight into how each of these characters think and what is important to each of them. And what we believe is innocence or naivety early on, we discover to be much more along the way.”

“The play explores the extent to which we will go to achieve our own ends. It highlights something of a relative morality with each of these characters challenged by literally, how far they will go. Also, there are many  love interests in the play, but all of them are unrequited. This is the fuel to the fire that adds to the surprising twists and turns that each character takes. Willy loves Imogen who loves Charles who loves Bronwyn. Bronwyn loves herself and Cedric is the opportunist among all of them.”

Thomas says he is also pleased with the dynamics that each of the actors in this production bring to their characters. “Willy is a tortured soul who knows much of the backstory to the relationships in the play,” notes Thomas. “Spencer Beyerlein brings complexity to Willy’s changing moods dependent on the situation, whether those moods are angry, lustful, or introverted. He has a great range with the character that has a long absence in the middle of the show, but compels the story along.”

Erica Close is Bronwyn. Bronwyn is sexual and manipulative. Erica has the chops to play both as almost innocent, which makes us wonder whether she is manipulative or just naive.  Matt Kehoe plays Charles as bookish and also naive, but always paying attention and always learning. When Charles acts in a surprising way near the end of the play, we believe him.”

Meagan Lambertson as Imogen brings a solid intellect to the character who is smart and provides logic for her desire for Charles.   And finally, Shawn Finney brings an older Cedric with the raw edges that make us first think he is just a brute, but then realize his brutishness is motivated by pure greed. Shawn’s experience on stage allows for this character to be nuanced and strong throughout.”

When asked about the challenges that this production poses to Todd as a director, he points to many factors.  “There is no question that the most challenging component by far has been the directing of a show to be acted on stage, but filmed and presented online. A lot of theatres in the area have done theatrical readings and such,  but in this case we are staging as a live show. That means that actors have to be safely distanced on stage and with each other. This show has a lot of physicality and intimacy, including an important sex scene that sets the tone for the second act. Obviously this would not have been explicit anyway, but to even hide it in a way that it is believable and done safely is quite a challenge.”

“That part was going to be a challenge all along, but paying attention to small things like touches and the like, as well as temperatures and health checks every night are all new components of directing that in all of my years I’ve never had to deal with, obviously.”

“This is a quirky play written by a quirky playwright,” concludes Thomas.  “One of the things I appreciate about this show is that it does not underestimate the audience. They are required to pay attention and to engage in the story.”

‘The Winkleigh Murders’  will have virtual performances scheduled from November 13-15th and tickets can be purchased by visiting or phoning 989-754-6587.


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