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Format of 1950s-style radio play enhances 'Let's Murder Marsha'

| Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 7:35 p.m.
Mountain Playhouse
From left, Charis Leos, Ashley Puckett Gonzales and Larry Tobiasare part of the cast of the farce 'Let’s Murder Marsha' on stage at the Mountain Playhouse Sept. 17 to 29.

An overheard conversation about a birthday surprise leads to a major overreaction in “Let's Murder Marsha,” the latest farce being presented at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown.

When mystery-loving Marsha overhears her husband having a secret conversation with another woman, she concludes that her husband is planning to kill her. When a policeman and Marsha's mother arrive, Marsha's fears grow even more outlandish as she assumes they're part of her husband's murderous plot.

Marsha enlists the help of her maid and a neighbor to turn the tables on her husband and the “other woman,” and a witty farce ensues.

Adding another dimension to the comedy, director Chan Harris is staging the show as a 1950s-style radio play.

“We added this extra level to it that makes it even funnier,” he says. “It has a quality of Carol Burnett-ness to it or ‘I Love Lucy.' It has the zaniness of that kind of show.”

Backstage sound effects will enhance the action taking place on stage. For example, in one scene, an unseen bottle drops and rolls across the floor. The characters mime looking at it, but in reality, there is nothing there. The audience knows what it is only by the sound effects coming from backstage.

“I'm really excited about this show,” Harris says. “It's one of the most exciting projects that I've worked on anywhere, because of the people, both onstage and backstage.”

One of those people is actress Ashley Puckett Gonzales, who plays Marsha.

“It's fun to create a character that goes over the top,” Gonzales says. “Marsha is an excited, imaginative kind of woman. She's a little harebrained, but she's very likable.”

Marsha's ally in the play is her neighbor Virgil Baxter, played by Sean Patrick Hopkins.

“He's a very nervous sort,” Hopkins says of Virgil. “He gets wrapped up in the wackiness that goes on in the play. He gets swept up and goes along for the ride.”

Hopkins finds that the radio-show format enhances the play's comedy.

“It really fits this play,” he says. “It reads very much like a mid-century radio drama. It's given us a lot of creative freedom, almost in a ‘Prairie Home Companion' style, with sound effects going on backstage and things happening onstage that embody those sounds. It really heightens the experience and gives a lot of opportunities for extra comedy.”

Other cast members are Larry Tobias as Tobias Gilmore, Sarah Sawyer as Persis Devore, Charis Leos as Bianca, Suzanne Ishee as Lynette Thoren and Jeffrey Correia as Ben Quade.

“The group of people that we have here is one of the funniest groups I've ever worked with,” Hopkins says. “It's one of the funniest shows I've ever been part of.”

Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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