Ken Ludwig’s Postmortem at the Belmont Theatre in York
In the newly renovated Belmont Theatre in York—complete with the smell of fresh paint and comfortable seats—Postmortem spooks its way on to the stage. The murder mystery, written in the 1980s by York native Ken Ludwig, is set over the course of a weekend in a lavish mansion in southern Connecticut. The cast is largely made up of actors performing in a Sherlock Holmes play in New York and the mansion is owned by William Gillette, the actor currently playing the title role. After a performance, the cast members make their way back to the leading man’s abode to spend a few days together. Not long after arriving, however, accusations and suspicions are thrown back and forth among the actors, conjuring up the murder of a former leading lady which took place in the mansion just one year prior.
The fact that these actors are playing actors on stage gives Postmortem an unsettling feeling: who is acting? who is telling the truth? Director Joel Persing kept the set and blocking of the action very minimal leaving the actors and their motivations to be the center of attention. The actors have plenty of room to play sharing the stage with only three small couches, a writing desk, and a drop-leaf table that doubles as the centerpiece of a seance at the climax of Act One.
Postmortem’s cast is full of actors who have appeared numerous times at the Belmont Theatre, but the young “Bobby” and “May” played by Charlie Heller and Ahmae Messersmith respectively brought a lively energy to the ensemble. Heller—though decades younger than most of his fellow actors—held his own as a dominant, hard hitting character from his first entrance all the way to the final curtain. The wise-cracking and lovable “Marion” played by Becky Wilcox cut the tension with side-splitting laughter from the audience with almost every line. This was counterbalanced with Christy Brooks playing the eerie, unstable “Louise.” Brooks’ masterful delivery of lines overflowing with hidden meaning sent chills through the theater as did her role as the medium in a dimly lit seance scene.
Promotional poster featuring cast of the Belmont Theatre’s production of Postmortem.
As expected, the plot has its twists and turns, but unfortunately the big reveal doesn’t ring out with any sort of shock factor. I imagine this has less to do with the cast’s performance or the direction by Persing, but more with the dated social stigma that Ludwig, the award-winning writer, was trying to address at the time of its original run. I fear that the homophobic nature of the play’s conclusion will not resonate well with younger audiences. Much has changed since the mid-80s when it comes to support and justice for the LGBT community. I hope that the Belmont and its Artistic Director will continue to choose material that will challenge and gather young audiences to help theatre and the arts to continue thriving in the White Rose City. Overall, this dynamic cast handled the material exceptionally well and I look forward to seeing more work come out of this playhouse.
Postmortem runs through October 30, 2016. Tickets may be purchased online at thebelmont.org or by calling the box office at (717) 854-5715.