Monday, October 1, 2018

Perfect Crime (Broadway)


Psychiatrist Margaret Brent (Catherine Russell) is visited by Inspector Ascher (Steve Blanchard) at her home/clinic after the alleged murder of her husband, except that W. Harrison Brent (David Butler), alive and kicking and with a rifle, emerges from the kitchen door just in time to say hello to the detective. About to drop the case, the investigator changes his mind and continues to pry as more dead bodies surface. However, he holds no evidence, yet all the clues point back to the direction of the Brents. As he comes back for return visits, he gets infatuated with his suspect without the assurance whether she is indeed guilty or innocent. The two go on to play a game of cat and mouse coupled with some flirting as Margaret continues to see patients, including serial killer wannabe Lionel McAuley (Patrick Noonan) who dreams of committing the perfect crime.

Perfect Crime is the longest-running show on Broadway, predating The Phantom of the Opera by a few months. The lead actress has been playing the same role for more than three decades now, missing just four performances for personal reasons and holding the Guinness World record for most performances as a character in a play. With tickets selling at just $32 on Todaytix, it is considered as a bargain too. And so, I decided to finally watch it. We’re already on Season 3 of Broadway Barrage. We better do this now.

I don’t know if Russell is overacting or if the character can be really overbearing most of the time. Her dialogues with the other characters are mostly intrusive in nature, abruptly cutting them mid-sentence. Watching her can be off-putting and gives you a notion that everything is too rehearsed. But then again, she has been doing this for more than 30 years now. She can probably recite her lines with her eyes closed. Perhaps it really is just an issue of characterization. Maybe Margaret is just cuckoo like that.

The plot is mysterious alright, but the play does not really work well as a thriller. It is more of a whodunit mystery that keeps you guessing and trying to figure out all the clues. Perhaps it is in its twists that Perfect Crime fails. While there are many red herrings to keep you sidetracked, some of the twists are just too far-fetched or rather hard to believe. Some of them even borrow some soap opera tropes for dramatic effect, but do not quite hit the mark. We appreciate the effort, though.

In terms of production design, the setting is old-school whodunit complete with book shelves and a fireplace. The only innovation is the painting which serves its own function as a plot device. The design lends authenticity but feels quite dated. Perhaps this is where other whodunit plays beat Perfect Crime. Shear Madness, for instance, is set in a parlor with bright neon hues that surely catch your attention. This play’s set seems to be a very clear warning that you might want to fall asleep.

It is also this self-awareness or air of seriousness that sort of weighs the play down. They do attempt to modernize by including Alexa in the storyline, but that seems to be the extent of the effort. Nevertheless, the play wouldn’t have lasted this long if it is not intriguing enough for the audience to enjoy. It will always have a place in Broadway tradition and by all means, go see it and be part of its long history. As for me, it’s 50-50 although I must admit I still enjoyed the guessing game.

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