TNIM Spring Production of “Murder at Checkmate Manor”

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Submitted by Andrea Howard

We’d like to begin by thanking NG Times readers for your ongoing support of Theatre Night in Merrickville [TNIM], our small but vital community theatre group. We had full houses for every performance of our Christmas comedy, “My Three Angels”. By all accounts, folks were delighted by the play and impressed with the production. Many people came from afar and they were glad they did. How satisfying it is for a volunteer cast and crew to see the fruits of their labour so thoroughly enjoyed.

Well, TNIM is at it again, revving up for our Spring production of a hilarious murder mystery, “Murder at Checkmate Manor”, brought to you by the very serious, but not very competent, ladies of the (take a breath) Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society.

The plot revolves around the gathering of the Bishop Clan at creaky old Checkmate Manor, on a dark and stormy night, for the reading of the last will and testament of the late Sir Reginald Bishop. In-laws and relatives include Lady Rook, the Colonel and Mrs. King, and a host of Bishops, young and old. Ever-present are Pawn, the Butler, and Regine, the French maid. As the bodies begin piling up, we add a policeman – one Inspector O’Reilly. In the end, there are few family members left alive to claim Sir Reginald’s fortune, and the Inspector has no easy time figuring out whodunit!

Indeed, the Inspector’s job is further complicated by the fact that his character must be played by the stage manager, as the original actor cast has had an injury. And that is not the only complication that makes this play-within-a-play a zany experience of little theatre at its best and worst.

British playwrights, David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jnr, have created a series of hilarious comedies for the repertoire of the fictional, ragtag Dramatic Society. In December, 2010, director Timothy Molloy brought the Farndale production of “A Christmas Carol” to TNIM. Three actors from that show – Vicki Graham, Ann MacLaughlan, and Andrea Howard, are back to reprise their roles as Townswomen, with Heddy Sorour and Connie Coleman rounding out this season’s Guild. As is the norm, we witness the politics and pettiness of the Society ladies as they perform in an ambitious and invariably disastrous play.

Timothy Molloy has been eager to bring back the ladies of the Guild for another ”chucklefest…a bowlful of giggles”. Indeed, he can be heard laughing out loud at every rehearsal and is fearless about squeezing every sight gag, pratfall and line flub he can out of an already very funny script. “I’m still laughing!” says Timothy, well into the 8-week rehearsal period.

For the actors, the challenges are many: furniture breaks, walls fall, costumes fail, and lines are flubbed. Well cast for their comedic abilities, the five women must also play multiple roles – badly. It takes true talent to pretend not to have any … memories of Jack Benny on his violin and the crazy antics in Carol Burnett’s sketches!

“There is a fine line here”‘ says Andrea Howard, “I have to die five times in this play! Let’s hope it’s just the characters and not the actor out there dying!” Anne MacLaughlan adds, “It is surprising how hard it can be to memorize the lines you will have to pretend to forget. The timing is tricky and loads of fun.” Vicki Graham sums it up well: “This play is the Murphy’s Law of comedies – whatever can go wrong will, resulting in lots of slapstick and good laughs.”

So, we invite you to prepare for a knee-slapper this time, as you continue your wonderful support of our very own dramatic society, whose productions for the past 42 years have really rarely gone awry. It’s a short drive to the Merrickville Community Centre for 90 minutes of good clean fun – family friendly too!

Showtimes are Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, at 7:30 pm; Sunday Matinee April 15 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available online at www.merrickvilletheatre.org or in person at Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Foods and the Merrickville Book Emporium. You can also call producer Bronwen McKnight at 613-269-3891 to reserve, or take your chances at the door.

Hope to see you there!

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