Review: 'Investment in Murder' at the Pumphouse Theatre

Vicki Trask

  • OnStage Calgary Columnist

Every year there are theatre companies blooming to life and winking out of existence, replacing and creating something new every time. I admit I’m a little wary of new companies. Word of mouth is the only way you can really know what you’re getting into and a fresh new face has no such reputation to bring people in. I attended this particular performance (on Wednesday September 14th) out of sheer curiosity and I saw a lot of good things. This is one such occasion where I find myself curious about the journey that has just begun.

Confederation Theatre Society is very new to Calgary; this is, in fact, only their second show ever produced – and “Investment in Murder” was quite an undertaking. Written and directed by Alan LeBoeuf, this two act play tells the story of a wealthy investor who dies under mysterious circumstances, creating more questions than answers as the story goes on.

I confess that when a financial scandal breaks, I have no idea what any of the jargon means but I trust that losing myself in fiction will help me understand things I don’t know. This show only served to confuse me more. To quote the woman sitting beside me (for two hours ad nauseam): “what?”

I found this show difficult to follow.

To start with, the script was very wordy. The majority of my time was spent watching the actors sit and spout exposition which was hard on the audience and the actors. So often, they stuttered or mixed up their lines making the plot even more tiresome. Don’t even get me started on the plot holes in the criminal justice system. In no 2008 universe would you get test results in 20 minutes. 

Plot discrepancies aside, the script relied very heavily on the strength of the actors to keep the energy up. They tried their best but there were a lot of dead moments. Some of which were a little painful but others were so awkward I found myself laughing out loud. My favourite was a five minute set change in which a hunky stagehand cleared the set in half-lit silence. Hilarious but unnecessary. 

A lot of the show’s inelegance I attributed more to the script than the actors. While I found Kathleen Fraser’s performance as the studious secretary Cynthia Wise to be well recited, I was bored to death by her stereotyped hardball persona. I found much amusement in cameraman David Carpenter (Jamie Cunnington) taking control of the tragic situation and marking himself as the “overly-suspicious” character. Though most of the men spent a lot of the show sitting on their ass, I give major props to Kevin Chinook and Rob Hay (playing Lee Morris and Simon Osgood respectively) for trying to stay engaged despite having very little to contribute to the conversation. 

The rest of the cast: Arthur Zrill as Leslie Gershon, Larry Hoffman as Sheriff Miller (bless your soul, I barely understood what your character was saying), Gail Foulston as Lois LaRocque, and Scott Fea as Charles LaRocque kept this show moving along at quite a slow pace. I wish there was something more I could offer. 

I think “Investment in Murder” has a lot of potential and I’m glad I got to see the beginnings of it. The murder and its subsequent conclusion – although somewhat contrived – wasn’t a horrible concept, its execution on paper was just a bit too much to handle.

Now, not everything about my evening at the Pumphouse Theatre was uncomfortable. The staff and volunteers who ran the show were incredibly welcoming and helpful. They each had a smile and an answer to every question. I enjoyed watching them interact with the audience between acts, especially as we headed into the lobby at the end of the show. They’ve taken to recording the audience reactions as they leave the theatre  - interviewing satisfied patrons and the like. It’s a great way to get people talking about their experience and spread the word on social media.  I think it’s a wonderful idea. Confederation Theatre Society has stated that their mandate is “producing Canadian playwrights” but as they’re just starting out, the only writer they’ve worked with is director Alan LeBoeuf. They have a great starting point here but I’d like to see them in a few years; see how they’ve expanded beyond a single contributor.