LONG BEACH — The plotting in "The Butler Did It," by Walter and Peter Marks, is so involved that it nearly murders itself with a full act of slow-moving exposition. Once under way, however, it's a humorous pretzel of a whodunit served up with clarity, if not inspiration, by the Long Beach Community Players.
A company of actors in New York are rehearsing a murder mystery under the aegis of author-director-producer Anthony J. Lefcourt, who desperately needs a hit. When one of his actresses tries to blackmail him into giving her a bigger role in the play, Lefcourt arranges a series of damning confrontations between the blackmailer and every other member of the company. In this way, Lefcourt carefully frames a gallery of suspects for a murder that he repeatedly attempts to execute himself. Not only is he determined to rid himself of the troublesome actress, but her death will be the publicity handle he needs to propel his play to popular success.
It's a plot full of fun twists, once it gets cooking in the second act. Unfortunately, the first hour is spent watching some painfully bad acting and meaningless business as the actors rehearse Lefcourt's play on Steven Jay Warner's underdressed, black-floored wasteland of a set.