Art of Murder, making its New Hampshire debut this week, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the world of high-priced art. In this rarefied air, is it even about the work anymore or is it about how much money can be made? And why is murder part of the equation?
These questions will be tackled when the Nashua Theatre Guild performs this murder mystery by Joe DiPietro. If the name sounds familiar it is because DePietro has had a string of hits, including I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and more recently Memphis.
It was this reputation that attracted director Deborah Shaw. It had been a while since Shaw had been involved with the Nashua Theatre Guild, but when they put out a call for a director, she answered. She wanted to try something different, and she had never done a mystery before. But she didn’t enjoy the traditional Agatha Christie whodunit.
While reading plays she discovered the DePietro had done a mystery. She, like so many others, didn’t know that, which was surprising since Shaw reads more plays “than a human should.”
“It was hilariously funny with twists and turns you don’t expect,” Shaw said of reading the script. “And it’s short. It doesn’t draw it out for hours. But it keeps you guessing the entire time and there are only four characters.”
The characters are Jack (played by Chris Vick), who is an insulting artist whose work has made him famous and everyone around him rich. Vincent (Michael Coppola) is his art dealer, Annie (Melanie Rodrigue) is his wife, who has grown accustomed to a certain quality of life, and Kate (Sarah Lord) is the full-time maid.
After reading the script, Shaw feared they wouldn’t be able to perform the show because it called for specialized set pieces, like an isolation tank, which is a dark, soundproof tank in which people can float in warm salt water.
Shaw said these hurdles may have detracted other theater companies from producing the play even though it is more than 10 years old. Luckily for Shaw, her husband happens to be a wonderful set designer and so they were able to make the pieces. Once they knew they could do it, she said, the Nashua Theatre Guild was on board with the show.
Shaw also liked that the show was funny besides being a mystery. Shaw said the show blends two things people really like: smart comedy and a truly good thriller.
“You’ll be on the edge of your seat but laughing as well,” Shaw said. “You can’t ask for more than that.”
She said it helps that there are only four characters so that the audience can follow the action yet she doesn’t think they’ll be able to figure out the end of the play. This is where the fact that it is the New Hampshire premiere of the show works in Shaw’s favor.
“When you see a lot of mysteries, you’ve either seen or read them before so you know what is going to happen,” Shaw said. “With this one, you won’t be able to anticipate what is coming next.”
For a community performance, they’ve had a relatively short rehearsal schedule. Because of previous commitments, the team has met a couple of times per week for what will be six weeks total. But Shaw said she couldn’t be more proud of the cast.
“They’re good people and great actors,” Shaw said. “We’ve had a lot of fun rehearsing and think you will have a lot of fun at the show.”