Charlie Nickels is clueless.
So it’s lucky his right-hand gal, Ida, prefers sleuthing to secretarial duties. Time and again, her tenacious tracking leads the dashing but somewhat dim detective down the path of discovery.
Charlie and Ida are two characters in the play, “Kill Me, Deadly,” a comedy/murder mystery opening 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3 and running through Sunday, Nov. 19 at Whidbey Playhouse Community Theater.
“Kill Me, Deadly” is a different kind of play for the Oak Harbor theater that’s been open since 1966. Longtime stage volunteer and first-time director Christopher Scoggin took a risk in staging a contemporary playwright’s take on 1940s detective noir films.
“Noir has an impressive adaptability,” Scoggin said. “Its features can be dark and gritty or light and comedic.”
Great dialogue, a confusing but fun plot line and a 13-member cast that breathe life into 17 zany characters make this a memorable murder mystery. It’s also long on wit and wisecracks, ingredients sadly missing from today’s whiz-bang, gadget-crazed crime-solving television shows.
In one scene, Ida, played with great chops by Emily Scheidel, deduces a particular suspect is a “Negroni man.” So she digs through the trash of a particular joint and finds evidence of gin and vermouth bottles, the prime ingredients of a Negroni cocktail.
Who murdered Lady Clairmont? Who ended up with her 300-karat rare red diamond necklace? Those are central questions of the two-act play.
But it gets complicated — and romantic — when femme fatale Mona Livingston takes the stage in a plunging long red sequin dress.
Coqui Herken is a knock-out as Mona Livingston. A nightclub singer with a past and questionable present, Mona is described as “the one with nice pins and nice pipes.”
Herken, performing in her seventh Playhouse production, said she found the role refreshing.
“It’s 100 percent the reverse of what I usually play,” she said. “I’m usually cast as a sweet angel in a happy, bubbly role. To be an evil murderess has been completely different.”
One by one, suspects become victims.
Good guys and bad are double-crossed, love-crossed and tossed about the stage with pummeling fake punches.
Gangsters, dressed in the finer gangsta gear of yesteryear, figure prominently in the plot.
Ingrid Schwalbe is wonderful as the wealthy socialite Lady Clairmont, so it’s unfortunate she’s knocked off early. Kaitlin Barrailler and Carl Davis, both high school juniors playing Lady Clairmont’s spoiled daughter and son pull off their roles with great aplomb.
The play begins with actor Shawn Cain silhouetted on stage dressed in a cheap suit, long trench coat and classic Bogart hat talking about his life as “a private dick.”
“You meet a lot of funny people in a funny place like this,” he says, beginning his tale of a 1947 Hollywood heist. As he describes the “funny people,” they appear on stage spotlighted behind him.
“Kill Me, Deadly” is a play written for actors to have multiple roles. David Frazer plays both Jaime Guttierez and Fists Johansen. Warren Rogers plays Louis Shorts and Jonesy. Shealyn Christie plays Lady Mary and Dewey. Casey Riebe plays three roles: Bugsy Siegel, Stanley and Shirley.
Deftly playing the role of smart cop Henry Lumpkus is Cortni Thrasher. The straight-backed butler Adrian Wilson is alternately played by Benjamin Honeycutt or assistant director Kevin Wm. Meyer .
“Kill Me, Deadly” started out as a five-minute script, then just “bloomed and bloomed and bloomed,” said Cain. It’s appeared on stage nationwide and it was made into a movie.
Cain, a 49-year-old Oak Harbor grandfather with 25 years experience acting and directing, has appeared in many films. He’s friends with Bill Robens, the writer of “Kill Me, Deadly.”
“It’s very unique and it’s very edgy for Whidbey Playhouse,” said Cain, who deftly collars the gumshoe role like a cop on a crook. “It’s really been a labor of love for director Christopher Scoggin and assistant director Kevin Wm. Meyer. It really takes a lot of guts to bring it to life.”
Cain admitted playing Charlie Nickels wasn’t easy. Of the 80-page script, his character has lines on 74 pages.
“It’s such a big role,” he said. “I’ve done 12 feature films and I haven’t done a play since high school. This was very challenging.”
One of Cain’s lines early in the play is about how being a detective can lead a man to “lose faith in humanity.” One of Mona’s mantras always ends with the rhetorical question “but who has time these days?” (“I try to be good, but who has time these days?”)