‘Art of Murder’ paints comedic theater experience

Former CEC actor Eric Seeley makes his directorial debut.

The words “murder mystery” might evoke thoughts of a classic whodunit crime with a dagger in the ballroom (or a rope in the kitchen). The murder mystery “Art of Murder,” however, takes place in only one location: a modern living room with just four characters. Despite the uncomplicated set-up, the comedic plot will have audience members guessing until the end.

The dark comedy, performed by the Columbia Entertainment Company, follows egocentric artist Jack Brooks' aspirations to kill his art dealer, Vince. Although Jack’s motive for murder is increased profits for his paintings, each of the other characters in the play — including Jack’s wife Annie and his housekeeper Kate — contemplates murder with his or her own individual intentions.

The play won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Play in 2000, which “Art of Murder” director Eric Seeley said is most likely due to the unpredictable nature of the plot.

“I think it won that year simply because of the brilliance of the script,” Seeley said. “It’s really, really funny while still being very suspenseful.”

The comedic nature of the show distinguishes it from other plays in the murder mystery genre. Seeley said the unique nature of the storyline was why it was chosen for performance this season.

After acting with CEC, Seeley makes his directorial debut with “Art of Murder." The smaller cast in the show provided a good start for directing, but Seeley said he still encountered some technical challenges.

“One of the items in the show is an isolation tank, which one of the actors uses as a sensory deprivation tank,” he said. “It fills with water and plays music and is completely black and soundproof. We had to build that to make it look like he comes out being very wet without actually having an isolation tank on stage.”

A smaller cast also gives the actors more of an opportunity to bond with one another, said Adam McCall, who plays Jack Brooks. McCall said it also allows for more individual attention from the director.

“I find it a lot more easy to work with a small cast,” McCall said. “You get to be more intimate with the other people, which translates to a better relationship onstage. Also, there’s not as much business to sift through when it comes to rehearsal time.”

McCall considers himself a singer, which makes the role of Jack Brooks different from the musical roles he predominantly takes on. But, he said tackling a new type of role has helped him grow as an actor.

“If emotions were keys on a keyboard, (taking on different roles) lets you play more keys,” he said. “It makes you more well-rounded as a performer.”

Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. “Art of Murder” will play Nov. 11 to 14 and 18 to 21 at 1800 Nelwood Drive. Tickets are $10 for adults, $9 for students and $8 for children and seniors. Call 573-474-3699 to reserve tickets.

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