Review: Death, Love And Family Feature In 'Guide To Love And Murder' At Academy

By: Ellen Chahey

Topics: Local Theater

Ryan VanBuskirk as Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith, Ellen Birmingham as Sibella Holland, Geof Newton as Monty Navarro, Susanna Creel as Phoebe D'Ysquith, and Lizzy Smythe as Countess Eugenia D'Ysquith.  JEFFREY MOORE PHOTO

Their name is pronounced DIE-squith, and for sure a whole lot of D’Ysquiths die during the Academy of Performing Arts in Orleans' regional premiere of Tony Award winner “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak. This funny show that comes complete with slamming doors, clever music and one actor who plays nine D’Ysquiths, male and female, many of whom meet their ends by various sneaky means thanks to a relative who wants his share of the family fortune.

The question behind the plot is: If your mother’s family rejected her – and therefore you – do you really exist? And if you find out that you are a part of that family, and if they’re fabulously wealthy, how do you get in line to get some of the goodies?

That’s the problem of Monty Navarro, whose mother lost her status with the D’Ysquiths when she married someone they didn’t approve of. A friend of hers tells him the news just after mom’s funeral, and he learns that he’s eighth in line to inherit a title, an estate, and, of course, bags of money. Hmmm, what if something just “happened” to those eight?

Under the direction of Peter Earle, executive/artistic director of the Academy, a very capable cast sings, dances, and acts up a storm.

Geof Newton (Monty) and the rest of a love triangle, Ellen Birmingham (Sibella) and Susanna Creel (Phoebe), are excellent and on stage most of the time as the action swirls around them. Because so much of the play is sung, it is wonderful that they all have lovely voices and excellent acting chops.

And holy smokes! Ryan VanBuskirk, a firefighter/paramedic in his first performance at the Academy, not only has to play multiple characters but has to die several times in several ways. His role is listed as “The D’Ysquith Family” and in the program he gives his thanks, “most of all,” to his “beautiful, talented daughter Esme, without whom the various members of the D’Ysquith family could not have looked so amazing.” That’s an understatement.

Supporting cast also do a good job.

Newton and VanBuskirk also constructed the set, and Birmingham and her mother designed the costumes, many of which were gorgeous.

As always, Chris Morris, with his master’s from Oberlin Conservatory, got his own good share of applause for his solo keyboard accompaniment. Songs of note include “I Don’t Understand the Poor,” “Better With a Man,” “Inside Out,” and “I’ve Decided to Marry You.”

The play is a long one, three hours including a 15-minute intermission. Of course, there was one interruption by a cell phone (despite the program’s “Gentleman’s Guide to attending the theater,” the first item of which is “a gentleman always powers down his mobile device…”)