Given the popularity of murder mystery stories, it’s kind of surprising that more small stage theater doesn’t engage in the crime genre. Writer/Director Katherine Beeson illustrates how easy it is to stage a satisfying original murder mystery script for the small stage on a small budget with Is Murder Tax Deductible? It’s a comedic love letter to the mystery genre in two acts with a short intermission. There’s love. There’s murder. There's suspicious activity. There’s a detective actively working to figure it all out. There’s nothing terribly deep or original going on here, but there doesn’t need to be. After all...who doesn’t like a good mystery?
It’s a retro drama set in the offices of a Milwaukee accounting firm in 1951. It’s tax season. Everyone’s a little stressed out. Somebody gets murdered. Scenic designer Scott Fudali’s small set on the stage of Inspiration Studios in West Allis is made to look like an old movie. Everything is black, white and shades of grey right down to magazines, decorations on tables and a US flag in the corner of the office. Beeson’s costuming for the show follows suit with everything following the style of a classic detective noir made for the screen.
Mack Heath is cleverly rumpled as a gruff-looking Detective Phillip Bartholomew. The accounting offices of Dett and Merring have become a murder scene as one of the two partners has been found dead. Someone evidently shot him in the back of the head and Detective Bartholomew has to figure out who it was.
Joanna Langworthy is appealingly astute as the accountants’ secretary Bella Matthews. The one person in charge of knowing just about everything about the business, Bella has a firm knowledge of everything that goes on in the office. So why is it that it comes as such a shock to her that one of her bosses has been murdered?
Bella’s surprise at the sudden death of one of her bosses is as nothing to her surprise when he turns up at the office quite alive with an investigation still going on. There’s a good chance that whoever came to kill him ended up getting the wrong guy. In addition to having designed and built the set, Scott Fudali plays the gentleman in question with suitable vulnerability. The people responsible for the death of his partner just MIGHT pop-in for another visit if they knew they had the wrong person.
But...I’ve already given away too much about the plot. There are others. Rebecca Janey is admirably seedy as the ex-wife of the man who isn’t dead. Al Van Lith plays the fumblingly sleazy guy who owns the building where the office is located. Ed Spencer plays a respectable criminal who runs a Bait & Tackle shop located at Main and Hawley.
In a clever little bit of atmosphere the program features ads for a couple of the fictitious businesses mentioned in the mystery. The show takes place during tax season in 1951. It closes a couple of day before taxes need to be filed for 2018. It’s a cozy, little adventure with a few laughs as the winter draws to a close.
Cream City Theater’s Is Murder Tax Deductible? runs through Mar. 24 at Inspiration Studios on 1500 S. 73rd St in West Allis. For ticket reservations and more, visit Cream City Theater online.