Saturday, May 5, 2018

"Prescription: Murder" by Ghoulish Delights at the Phoenix Theater

Lieutenant Columbo, as personified by Peter Falk, is one of the best TV detectives of all time. The original series ran for seven season in the 1970s, two more in the late '80s, with specials continuing through 2003. Columbo, with his trench coat and cigar and "just one more thing," is a TV icon. But did you know that this detective series actually started as a play (as most good things do)? The creators of the TV show, William Link and Richard Levinson, first wrote a play about the disheveled detective who always gets his man, a play that was then turned into a TV movie that became the pilot for the long-running series. And the rest is history. Now, thanks to Ghoulish Delights, you have a chance to revisit that history and see Columbo's origins on stage at the Phoenix Theater in Uptown: a must see for Columbo fans and fans of retro thrillers.

Before the show, I posted on my Instagram story: "Ready for a great Columbo mystery. On stage!" But Columbo stories aren't really mysteries. The unique thing about these detective stories, and this play in particular, is that the audience sees the crime play out, and we know full well who did it and why. The fun then comes in watching Columbo seemingly bumble and stumble his way into figuring out whodunit, and seeing the cleverness behind his guise of incompetence. And what fun it is!

The play starts off slowly as we're introduced to the characters: Dr. Roy Fleming, his secretary Miss Petrie, his wife Claire, and his mistress Susan. But once the murder happens (Dr. Fleming kills his wife so he can live happily ever after with his mistress, natch) and Columbo arrives on the scene, things start to get good. Roy has planned the perfect murder and alibi for himself, or so he thinks. But our detective hero smells that something ain't right with the story. He picks and picks in his unobtrusive way until Roy starts to get annoyed, and asks his DA friend to pull him off the case. But that doesn't stop Columbo.

I can think of no one better in #TCTheater to play Columbo than Sam Landman. He's not doing a Peter Falk impression, but he is everything we love about Columbo. He's got the mannerisms down (cigar in hand, ruffling his hair, fumbling for his notepad) as well as that indomitable Columbo spirit - a humble exterior hiding an inner conviction and sense of right and wrong. It's really fun to watch Sam and the rest of this great cast play at murder. Riley McNutt is the cold and smooth doctor, a villain you love to hate. As his wife and mistress, Heidi Berg and Boo Segersin look so much alike I sometimes wasn't sure which was which. Rounding out the cast are Lana Rosario, who makes the most of the role of the secretary, and Eric Webster as the DA friend, who impressively learned the role for one night before passing the baton to Craig Johnson for the rest of the run.

Director Tim Uren keeps the tone fun and chilling, with an appropriately dark edge since we are talking about murder here. The play is staged minimally, with just a few pieces of furniture while much is left to the audience's imagination in the blank black space (doors, the broken window), but it works. Ilana Kapra's costumes capture that early '60s vibe with period touches including purses and gloves.

Prescription: Murder plays for two weekends only, so don't miss this rare chance to see one of TV's greatest detectives live on stage in all his rumpled glory and deceptive skill in solving crimes! See the Ghoulish Delights website for more information and to purchase tickets.