With all due respect and admiration for the exuberant, charming acting and remarkable, diverse directing, can we talk about the set for Alameda High School’s fall play, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940? This being a whodunnit, there must be a drawing room with drink cart, and of course a bookcase which is really the portal to a sneaky secret mysterious place, but dear Heavens to Murgatroyd, there are three on the stage at the Fred Chacon Little Theater, and they all opened in really cool ways with perfect squeaky sounds. And there were books. Not real books, but stage books—hundreds of pieces of foam, painted and pasted in place to look like books. And while I’m a book guy through and through (and honestly judge people on what they display on their shelves) I was mesmerized by these shelves and these books. They deserve their own standing ovation! Bravo! Bravissimo!
As for the play, it was in a word, everything. A murder mystery, a musical, a spoof on actors and acting with fictitious and real name-dropping, sort of historical, hysterical (in both senses), with weapons galore, slapstick shtick really quite quick, all of which combined to drive the already excited opening night crowd even wilder.
This is really an ensemble piece with terrific costumes worn by young actors employing accents, antics, and aping to make fun of older actors, all of whom are brought together to audition for a fancy-schmancy Hollywood director. Then the mayhem begins with thespian after thespian falling victim to… the Stage Door Slasher! Oh my!
Each actor had standout moments of comedy, zaniness, and even a little sweetness. So huzzahs to Baskette, Chea, Eglin, Buckingham, Forder, Yardeni, Boscovich, Hansen and Zenk! Special recognition goes to Kasia Kim who plays a character dragged about for reasons I probably should not reveal, but does so with such goofy conviction that I honestly thought of the great Lucille Ball, maybe the finest physical comedy actor ever.
And the weaponry? Butcher knife, dagger, meat cleaver, big sword, and gun all are employed, as well as a bottle of liquor used to concuss a character or two. Kudos to Tyler Null for the fight choreography. But the really big kudos go to director Anneka Fagundes. To take 2023 kids and get them to portray 1940 actors, ridiculous over-the-top-of-the-top actors, on a single set with those phenomenal bookcases and all the sharp objects, and with a few musical numbers, was really quite impressive. Well done!
As I was watching the play, written by John Bishop, I kept debating whether the metaphor of a stupendous plate of nachos with jalapeños, black olives, guacamole, and sour cream best described the cumulative effect of the story—Who did it? You did it! No, you did it too?—or one of those Carl’s Jr’s burgers with onion rings and a fried egg topping your double burger with melted cheese. So rich, not WW approved, but now and then it’s just the perfect thing. Delicious theatrical gluttony full of flavors galore. This play had so much going on, even during the blackouts, and resulted in something really quite special. The energy and joy summoned and shared by the actors created a symmetry unique to farce—it generated those very same feelings for all of us in our seats. As they bumble their way to figuring out whodunnit, we do too, and their gasps make and match ours.
The show run has already started, but you can catch the final weekend of The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 at the Frederick L. Chacon Little Theater, Alameda High School, 2200 Central Ave., on November 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for seniors, students, and AHS drama family members, or $8 for AHS students. Purchase at the door or in advance online at GoFan.
Visit the AHS drama department’s Instagram page.
Gene Kahane is the founder of the Foodbank Players, a lifelong teacher, and former Poet Laureate for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Gene-Kahane.