Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"...a play in which just about everyone is murdered and which improves in direct proportion to the number of victims."
Cleveland Press December 7, 1973
"Mystery Play," which opened last night at Dobama Theater, is by Jean Claude van Italie who wrote "America, Hurrah!"
Both are absurdist drama but beyond that have little in common.
"America, Hurrah!" was social satire, a small play with a big concept. "Mystery Play" also is a small play but so is its concept.
The author has dumped a number of different notions (they are not quite ideas) into his play but developed none.
Basically "Mystery Play" is a farce mixed with black comedy, a play in which just about everyone is murdered and which improves in direct proportion to the number of victims.
Basically the play is a satire on mystery plays. The classic characters are here including the amateur sleuth (a mystery writer), a butler, a well-to-do married couple and a woman who may be the lover of several of the male characters.
The woman who writes mysteries assigns roles, sets the stage gives the lines. It s a form of games playing fun gone haywire. One immediate]y thinks of "Sleuth" which satirized a particular form of detective fiction and then topped it on its own terms.
It is a short play made longer by repeating events, a technique the author may have been using to make a particular point, but which didn't.
The playwright satirizes more than mystery plays however. He gets in his digs at politics, society and social customs. The digs don't go very far or very deep.
The Senator is a pompous man who reads his will and sets in motion the motive of greed. Add jealousy and politics and there's little reason why anyone in the play should stay alive.
As each character dies he assumes a false red nose. Thus clearly marked he can return to talk about himself at length.
There are laughs in the play but I'm not sure that van Italie deserves the credit for them as much as the Dobama acting company and Everett Dodrill's busy and choreographed direction. He didn't make any sense out of the play but then I doubt there was much sense to be made.
Lee June as the mystery writer, Robert Whiting and Peggy Buerkel as the married couple and Ivan H Wolpaw as the professor were quite good in their roles.
While the production was interesting and often funny it can do little to help the play.