October 11, 2023 at 9:45 a.m.

"A Killer Comedy" to Debut at WILLow LeaVes of Hope Friday

By JENN WILLHITE | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

A mystery within a mystery waits to be solved as “A Killer Comedy” by local playwright Jason Bowser opens this Friday for a two-weekend run at WILLow LeaVes of Hope, located at 326 Jackson St. in downtown Hope.

Directed by Bowser and produced and co-directed by Naomi Fleetwood-Pyle, this original murder mystery is presented by Actors’ Studio Onstage (formerly Actors' Studio of Hope) in collaboration with WILLow LeaVes of Hope with doors opening at 5:30 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m. and the show beginning at 7 p.m. Friday.

When it came to writing this murderous comedy, Bowser says taking a new angle and offering a different spin were essential.  

After all, writing the same thing every time not only gets monotonous, but predictable.

Well, this time, Bowser certainly two-stepped to the outside the proverbial box.

A Killer Comedy” is the story of a cast of actors under the direction of a pompous, womanizing narcissist in his mid-40s named Preston McShane.  Each of the characters bring their own issues into the fold and the result is the equivalent of oil and water. 

Now, add some inflated egos, a pinch of unrealistic expectation, competing agendas, and a dash of narcissism and you have the perfect environment for things to go awry.

In this case, the result is murder – on two fronts.

“It is essentially a murder mystery within a murder mystery,” Bowser says.

Bowser’s McShane character may hold a lofty view of himself, but it is OK because, after all, he is an artist (pronounced Art-TEEEST, per McShane). However, his grandiosity and inflated sense of self only serve as fuel for the volatile relationship that builds betwixt he and the fictional play's cast.

“It is just the combustible situation among all these people who don’t get along in the first place,” Bowser says. “As it builds, you will see why people may have it out for my particular character as the show goes on. I am the stereotype of what people would detest in Hollywood.”

The challenges of writing a play in this style weren’t confined to the script – but encompassed the set, as well. 

Set designer Falicia Whited describes the pretext for the set design as unconventional and challenging at best. Not only will the audience see the traditional set, but they will also get a glimpse into the innerworkings of what goes on behind the scenes.     

Removing the mystique of the backstage offered Whited the opportunity to stretch her creative muscles.

Whited pulled in props from previous Actors’ Studio Onstage productions – which many WILLow LeaVes dinner-theatre fans will recognize – to fill the fictional backstage area.  

“It has a lot of visual cues for the actors, as well as for the audience,” Whited says. “It was like a little puzzle I had to put together and it was a lot of fun to figure out.”   

Tossing her set design hat aside, Whited also appears in the production as Josie – an up-and-coming actress who will do whatever it takes to be a star. And, she’s one of McShane’s many female companions competing for his affections -- and a role.

She's an opportunist with a hint of narcissistic tendencies, Whited says.

In a nutshell, Josie’s approach to achieve her ideal of stardom means to schmooze, study and conquer.

“It means you get in good with the director, producer and people in power and then you try to take over their positions,” Whited explains. “And, if you have to schmooze, kiss up or kiss on someone to get it, that is what you do.”    

Veteran actress Naomi Fleetwood-Pyle also returns to the stage with dual roles as producer of the fictional play and grandma, Lola. And, there are also her attempts to keep McShane between the guardrails – a challenge all unto itself. 

“He and I have a little ongoing battle throughout the play because he changes the play’s script three weeks before the opening,” Pyle says. “We are all upset because we have to learn all new lines; plus he’s messing around with the other women and I’m yelling at him because he’s always acting like the boss.”

Adopting two characters at once and continually pivoting between the dual roles has presented unique challenges and opportunities for growth among the production’s cast of seven.

“It’s been very layered and fast-moving,” Whited says.

Though writing a mystery within a mystery was a new foray into the traditional take of a who-done-it, Bowser says the end result is parody.

“It is a satire about those actors who take themselves too seriously,” Bowser says. “In the end, we are just performers. We don’t take ourselves seriously.”

Similar to his past productions, Bowser says his hopes for this play remain the same as always. “A Killer Comedy” is intended as a break from the day-to-day, a chance to escape for a couple of hours.

“As fractured as we are in real life, it is nice to come together and just enjoy ourselves with a bunch of different people,” Bowser says.

Whited echoes Bowser’s sentiment as she says she hopes those who attend the show truly enjoy it.

“I just want them to have a good time,” she says. “I want it to be a collaborative effort where they sit back and enjoy watching us enjoy doing it and enjoy it with us. The reason I give so much time and effort to these shows is because it does give people an escape. It is a form of entertainment and community connection.”   

What: “A Killer Comedy” presented by Actors’ Studio on Stage and WILLow LeaVes of Hope
When: 7 p.m. October 13, 14 and 20 (Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; Dinner at 6 p.m.); Matinee at 2 p.m. October 15 and 22 (Doors open at 12:30 p.m.; Lunch at 1 p.m.).
Where: WILLow LeaVes of Hope, 326 Jackson St. downtown Hope.
Cost: $35 per person, includes meal, dessert, drink and show.
** For reservations or more information call 812-341-7251.