Review: “Secondary Cause of Death” at the Joyce Doolittle Theatre

Vicki Trask

  • Calgary Critic

This time last year audiences rolled in their seats watching the blundering Detective Inspector Pratt in Peter Gordon’s “Murdered to Death” presented by Simply Theatre. Now Peter and his Detective are back in “Secondary Cause of Death” at the Joyce Doolittle Theatre. I had high expectations for this murder mystery – Murdered to Death was a fantastic show. However, I left the theatre feeling disappointed.

Oh, the actors were fantastic, although there was quite a bit of stumbling and stuttering; I’m going to put most of the blame on the script. 

On the evening of September 24th, I watched Detective Inspector Pratt reunite with Colonel Craddock to solve yet another series of murders at the manor, this time with foreigners, spies, a sexy nurse, and an escaped mental patient (a call back to the previous case). 

This was Fadi Saghir’s directorial debut and I applaud a lot of the moments that made me laugh or lean forward in amused confusion, but there were things that I didn’t find funny. It wasn’t just me. The audience wasn’t very vocal in their enjoyment and when a joke or a physical bit didn’t land, there was a lot of dead air. Nothing kills comedy like too much silence in the wrong place.

Dale Hirlehey is back as Inspector Pratt with the same ineptitude and wide-eyed comedy as last time. I place the fault with the script he was given to work with. What was funny in the previous show was taken too far and lost its humor half way through the first scene. The word play was overdone and almost childlike in origin – which is fine if that humor is consistent across the board. I could hear the audience lose interest as the show went on but I think Mr. Hirlehey brought the right energy and clumsy bumbling as his previous experience with the Inspector.

The same can be said of Colonel Caddock, portrayed once again by Greg Miller. Playing double duty as Cardew Longfellow, I thought Mr. Miller did an excellent job of distinguishing characters, making an entrance, and generally adding some exaggerated humor. I found I didn’t care about his character, however. We didn’t see him (or either of his personalities) enough to establish a connection. For that matter, I barely cared about any of the characters for the same reason. I think the script was trying too hard to create new twists that it lost the personality.

Erin Weir’s performance as Lady Isadora Pollock was appropriately nonchalant and graceful. The maid, Martha Armstrong (Lauren Johnson), and sexy Nurse Ann Parsley (Larra Caldie) played their parts very well, if briefly. I would have loved to see more of them. 

I could not understand a word that Kimberly Elliot said as Captain Henrietta Woolmer Cardigan. She spoke so quickly with such a specific accent that I’m sure she was very funny, but I couldn’t hear her. 

The cook, Lily Tuthill played by Leanne Melathopolous, held it together very well. Her accents, her precise character; I have no complaints. The same can be said for Caitlin Karpetz’ portrayal of Cynthia Maple: the uptight, aggressively organized woman leading the evening’s festivities. I found her to be precise in character, entertaining to watch, and overall a very engaging actress.

Of course they had a wonderful set to work with. Semi-functioning, full, and lavish, I applaud the team who created this beautiful setting (Rich Davis, Josh Bailey, Lorie Masur, Alex May, Fadi Saghir, and James Noonan). No matter what I may think of the script, I loved the set.

For all its faults, the actors were strong, the set was fantastic, and I did generally enjoy myself. I only hope that if Simply Theatre decides to tackle the third play in Peter Gordon’s series (yes, there’s more adventures of Inspector Pratt), that there will be more laughs to be had.
“Secondary Cause of Death” will play down at the Pumphouse until October 1st.