Intrigue abounds in Framed at the Elite
by Jim Spencer and Shirley Lorraine
Now through May 22 Oxnard’s Elite Theatre Company it is presenting a world premiere murder mystery thriller entitled Framed.
The story has multiple murders, multiple lawyers, multiple potential culprits, and possibly multiple frame-ups. It is full of twists and turns. One moment the identity of a guilty party appears clear, and the next the same party seems in the clear. The script is engaging, entertaining, highly credible, and well worth your time.
First, there’s a murder. Voice over clips of TV news reports about the crime effectively set up the plot and move the audience right into the action.
The accused’s seasoned attorney, Eugene Murray (Larry Swartz), confers with a colleague, Thomas Russo (Alexander Schottky), about possible strategies in defending the case as all the evidence points to the guilt of his client, played by Olivia Heulitt. New circumstances begin to emerge to suggest the defendant may have been framed after Russo, who is known for his outlandish and headline-hunting tactics, joins the case.
But that’s only the beginning. A subsequent murder and other complications send the story cascading in various directions – leaving the audience and detective Olivetti (Ken Johnson) the job of deductively connecting the dots to see if they form a frame.
The play’s author, Richard Weill, is both a trial attorney and an experienced playwright. Consequently, the script bears an uncommon authenticity, as well as being literate, concise and cogent. His characters offer valuable insights on the differences between being “innocent” and “not guilty,” plus richly balanced observations about the impact of the media on the justice system.
The characters spend a lot of time talking about legal issues, which makes the play predictably wordy. To counterbalance the wordiness, director Judy Blake appropriately keeps the tempo fast paced. Each act was only 45 minutes long. But this positive technique has a slight downside. The verbal action is often so rapid that major points can easily be missed. There isn’t time to savor the intellectual morsels playwright Weill shares through his characters.
All new works benefit from fine tuning. In this play there is a surprise ending. It is presented abruptly, almost without warning, and then the curtain falls. Boom! The show is over. In our view the audience is not given enough time to fully take in what happened before the house lights come up. Some type of short closing epilogue scene could wrap up the storyline.
By their nature, mystery thrillers are roller coaster rides. Good ones require top notch casts to make the experience real for the audience. Lead by Alexander Schottky as brash defense attorney Thomas Russo, the ensemble at the Elite is more than up to the job. It does a marvelous job of engaging and transporting the audience through all the twists and loops on the search to find out who did it and who, if anyone, was framed.
Framed plays Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. until May 22, 2016 at the Elite Theatre Company, 2731 Victoria Ave. (corner of Channel Islands Blvd. & Victoria Ave), Oxnard.
Tickets: $15. Info, reservations and tickets 483-5118. www.elitetheatre.org.