Ken Ludwig, directed by Steve Fletcher
Call Theatre, through April 9
In real life, the actor William Gillette was an early interpreter
of Sherlock Holmes, whose popularity allowed him to build
a “castle” in Connecticut with the profits of his work. In
Postmortem, Gillette is himself involved in a mystery
involving his former leading lady and the cast of his latest
production. Penned by the author of Lend Me a Tenor
and Moon Over Buffalo, Postmortem has its share
of twists and turns, but it’s neither as funny as Ludwig’s
other work nor as tightly constructed as other examples of
the genre like Sleuth or Deathtrap. What the
show has going for it are a great performance by Victor L.
Cahn as Gillette, and a talented ensemble that knows how to
play to type: the ingenue, the second banana, the vamp. Add
to that sets, lighting and costumes that perfectly capture
the Prohibition-era milieu, and some scenes that will scare
the bejesus out of you, and you’ve got a whodunit that makes
up for what it lacks in substance with an awful lot of style.
Ludwig borrows many of the conventions of the murder mystery
from masters like Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. Gillette,
who’s portrayed Holmes for so many years he’s taken on some
of his signature character’s trademarks, has invited the members
of his company to spend the night at his secluded country
estate exactly one year after the sudden death of his beautiful
fiancée and co-star Maude Redding, ostensibly to attend a
nearby party the next night for the legendary Sarah Bernhardt.
His guests include his new leading lady May (Kathryn Lange);
Leo, his Watson (Ric Mitchell), whose wife Marion (Linda J.
Hughes) is also Gillette’s sister; Bobby (Kris Anderson),
a young man attracted to May; and his aunt Lily (Rie Lee).
The group’s discomfort at being brought to the house on the
anniversary of Maude’s death is only increased when her best
friend, Louise (Joanna Palladino), arrives fresh from a nervous
breakdown. But Louise, decked out in a frilly pink number,
fur stole and cloche hat, not only manages to outshine even
this glamorous crowd, she also takes everyone by surprise
by announcing she’s given up acting for a new career. The
plot thickens as secrets are revealed and new questions emerge—such
as whether Maude’s death was really suicide, as the police
declared at the time. But Ludwig throws in so many red herrings
that the rhythm of the piece suffers, making it hard for director
Steve Fletcher to keep up the suspense for the entire play.
Still, the performances carry the play. Even without a deerstalker
cap and curved briar pipe, Cahn is the very picture of the
logical detective, from his silk dressing gown to his distinctly
Rathbonian profile. (It’s said that the famous film sleuth
took many of his touches from the stage actor’s characterization.)
Though not enough is made of this link, there are some nice
Holmes-like touches, such as Cahn’s haunting violin solo.
Palladino crackles as the ditzy Louise, and Lee makes a maternal
Lily. The rest of the cast lives up to Curtain Call Theatre’s
The living room set by Malachi Martin, bedecked with moose
horns and crossed swords, and Janet Womachka’s flapper dresses,
especially Louise’s red sheath with black beads, rise above
what is sometimes seen on this stage, and go a long way toward
setting the proper mood. All in all, a decent effort, but
the final report on Postmortem is that it promises
more than it delivers.