EXCERPTED FROM MARTIN DENTON’S REVIEW / JANUARY 12, 2004 / WWW.NYTHEATRE.COM
With tongue planted fairly firmly in cheek, William LoCasto has given us The Plot: A Murder Mystery. It’s set in New York City in 1958, when husbands still told their wives what to do, when a sexy scandal could destroy a career, and when being a big Broadway producer meant you were powerful, famous, and in demand.
One such producer, Carl Fagan, is at the center of The Plot: he’s observed one evening making a threatening gesture to his wife Margaret by one of his up-and-coming playwrights, Derek Thompson. At a dinner party shortly afterward, Derek’s wife Samantha gets it into her head that Carl is indeed planning to kill Margaret; and when Margaret reveals to Sam, at lunch the next day, that she has been bragging about writing a book that will “tell all” about Carl’s extra-marital affairs, Sam is convinced she’s uncovered the motive for Carl’s would-be crime.
Then, Margaret is run off the road in what may or may not be a traffic accident. And events start transpiring that bear a curious resemblance to the plot of a new murder mystery play being written for Carl by Derek’s naive younger brother, Justin. Is Carl up to something? Quite possibly: I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s poison involved.
Playwright LoCasto keeps his story moving briskly, and he has one or two neat surprises up his sleeve; but it’s clear from the start that The Plot is more comedy than suspense thriller. Steeped in the attitudes and argot of its Eisenhower Era setting, and performed in the intimate Creative Place Theatre space, the play feels like a throwback to the black-and-white sitcom era; I was reminded particularly of that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel eavesdrop on some new neighbors and conclude wrongly that the husband is a murderer.
The best thing about this production is Anthony Guernica’s terrific performance as the Dobie Gillis-ish Justin Thompson. Guernica plays goofy innocence beautifully: with eyeballs bulging out of their sockets at the slightest provocation, he’s impressionable gullibility personified. Even though his hangdog character is the show’s second banana, he steals the play neatly. Joseph Caffrey is delightful in his two brief scenes as Detective Bob, the policeman who lives down the hall and manages to save the day. And Susan Tabor turns in an elegant, endlessly interesting performance as possible victim Margaret Fagan.
I had fun at The Plot. LoCasto, whose first play this is, demonstrates real flair for gentle, screwball-styled comedy here. I’ll be watching for what he comes up with next.