Witty Comedy Comes To WOU

MONMOUTH — What do you get when you mix eccentrics with a conservative politician, a liberal and a sleuthing Irish maid?

“Death by Design,” a witty comedy whodunit by Rob Urbinati that takes audience members through two acts of mystery madness — a little heavier on the madness — as an English country house fills with more and more visitors, each one with a motive for murder.

Western Oregon University’s theater department is staging the play, which opens Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Rice Auditorium. The play runs for two weekends, with a matinee performance on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The play presented a few challenges for its actors, not the least of which was the accents and dialects needed to pull off a British play.

“We have English, Irish, Cockney — a wide array of voices,” said Trevor Jackson, who plays Walter Pearce. “From the first few weeks, we’d spend half an hour to an hour just working on our voices.”

Kolleen Chapa said the dialect work helps make her character, Sorel Bennett, more dimensional.

“It just adds so much more to your character when you’re able to do something even more out of the box,” she said.

Students performing at dress rehearsal
Victoria, played by Belladina Star, dances with Sorel, played by Kolleen Chapa, while Walter lies dead on the couch. Walter, a conservative member of parliament, is played by Trevor Jackson in Western Oregon University’s production of “Death by Design.” He has been murdered, and everyone in the English country cottage is a suspect. The play combines wit with murder-mystery. (Photo by Emily Mentzer)

Chapa tends to be a film actor, so working on the main stage is a different kind of performance.

“Film is really small acts,” she said. “You’re mic’d, so you don’t have to be big and elaborate.”

With film, Chapa said she may have to say three lines, break character for 10 minutes, and then go back into character.

“On stage, you have to get into character and you’re in it straight for two hours,” she said.

Another challenge is the set, which is impressive.

“The set’s a monster,” said director Ted De Chatelet. It gives the audience a view into the two-story country house, complete with a staircase strong enough to push someone down — perfect for a murder mystery.

The play has added dimension in its casting. JennyLynn Dutrich is hard of hearing and legally blind. She plays Bridgit, the sleuthing Irish maid, and delivers all of her lines in American Sign Language.

To assist those who don’t speak ASL, Natalie Piper provides a voice for the character, even acting as her ears on stage during a humorous encounter with the telephone.

The play is a delightful mix of dry humor and dark wit, with a splash of murder to mix things up. It is family friendly, but recommended for those aged 14 and older.

On Stage at Western

What: “Death by Design,” Western Oregon University’s Department of Theatre and Dance fall production.

When: Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinee, 2 p.m.; Nov. 19-22, 7:30 p.m.

Admission: General, $12; seniors, $10; students, $7.

For more information: WOU Department of Theatre and Dance, 503-838-8461; Rice Auditorium Box Office, 503-838-8462.

Polk County Imemizer-Observer
by Emily Mentzer