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Theater Reviews : 'Murder' Struggles to Come to Life

March 17, 1995|T. H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — The plot of Douglas Post's "Murder in Green Meadows," originally written for TV, is an intriguing, puzzle-like whodunnit--or whodidn't--much in the film noir style of James M. Cain. In its unfolding, a multitude of deceptions arise.

Some of the story's thrills shine through the adapted script at this Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse production. Some don't.

Carolyn and Jeffrey Symon (Nancy Zelonka, Randy Jones) have just moved into Green Meadows, a classy housing development designed by Thomas Devereaux (Giles Hunt). Devereaux and his wife, Joan (Anita Burgoyne), just happen to live in the original model across the street from the Symons. The Symons don't know what they're in for.

It seems Joan Devereaux can't keep out of bed with other men. Early on, Thomas describes to her how he murdered a teen-ager who was her lover in the last development he designed. Of course she hasn't told him she is lusting after their new neighbor at that very moment. Thomas does find out, and the crimes, real and false, begin to multiply, until Post's Hitchcockian final scene. No shocks will be spoiled here.

The TV script, which was nominated for a local Emmy in Chicago, has been expanded for the stage by the author. He hasn't quite turned it into a play, though.

The added dialogue is easy to pick out (idle chatter that has nothing to do with anything), and he has retained those short, filmic scenes that separate the video boys from playwrights. The resulting very long blackouts between scenes destroy any building of suspense, and the dialogue hardly gives the actors anything on which to build their characterizations.

If designer Perry Ash's costume plot were simplified and more efficient, it might speed up the scene changes, and if Keith Ball's scenic design looked more like a luxury home than a country cabin, it would be helpful.

But outside of a fairly complete rewrite, director Denise Kenney had her work cut out. She has made the piece look better than it sounds. She milks every moment of suspense there is and even manages to make some of it come to honest life.

Jones and Zelonka are both effective as the ill-fated neighbors, just as charming and naive as they should be.

Burgoyne, however, hasn't found a central core to her terrified, self-destructive villainess and lets her characterization waffle about without realistic motivation. Hunt, except for one scene that is out of character and excessive, has just the right smilingly glib and convincingly evil gleam he should have.

With all four, if something were going on in their minds besides the surface words, the horror of their goings-on would be gripping. As it is, it's merely interesting as a murderous puzzle.

* "Murder in Green Meadows," Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St. Today and Saturday 8 p.m. , Sunday 2 p.m. Closes Sunday. $10. (714) 650-5269. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Giles Hunt: Thomas Devereaux

Randy Jones: Jeffrey Symon

Anita Burgoyne: Joan Devereaux

Nancy Zelonka: Carolyn Symon

A Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse production of Douglas Post's psychological thriller, produced by John Brammer. Directed by Denise Kenney. Scenic design: Keith Ball. Lighting design: Mark Andrew. Costume design: Perry Ash. Stage manager: Dave Sharp.

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