“Accomplice”: murder has never been such fun

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A Scene from
A Scene from "Accomplice" at the Bickford Theatre. Photos by Warren Westura.

The problem with reviewing a mystery as good as Rupert Holmes’ Accomplice is that you want to tell everyone what happens so that they’ll want to see it too — but the moment you do, you spoil the surprises you enjoyed. What I can say is that Accomplice is one of the wittiest, trickiest plays I’ve ever seen, and the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morristown is to be applauded for pulling it off in high style.

The play — sort of a love child of Noel Coward and Agatha Christie — is set in the home of Derek and Janet, a country estate outside of London. The couple is preparing for a visit from John, Derek’s business partner, and his wife Melinda. Janet is unhappy with the neglect she gets from Derek, especially when it comes to sex. Derek has perfected the fine art of idleness to such an extent that he practically does no work at all, even though he dutifully goes in to the office, albeit late, every day, which annoys the workaholic John no end.

A Scene from "Accomplice" at the Bickford Theatre. Photos by Warren Westura.
A Scene from “Accomplice” at the Bickford Theatre. Photos by Warren Westura.

As for Melinda, she is a pretty but vapid bauble. This being a murder mystery, by the end of the play someone ends up dead, of course. But who, and why, and how — well, that’s for you to find out.

Director Eric Hafen is at his peak, keeping the audience off-guard as we try to figure out the mystery. He has a quartet of able actors to assist him, nimbly working their way through the twists and turns playwright Holmes has created for them. Tait Ruppert and Lilli Marques make their Bickford debuts as Derek and Janet, painting a wickedly civilized portrait of a couple obviously out of love with each other. Emaline Williams is a comic delight as Melinda, creating a character that may just be smarter than everyone else assumes. Unfortunately, at the performance I attended, actor Mike Newman was unable to perform as John. However, his understudy, Paul Del Gatto, did a fine job taking over the role at the last minute, and showed that his talent won’t be wasted in understudy jobs for long.

Taking inspiration from the script, the Bickford Theatre’s design team rose to new heights with Accomplice. The skills of scenic designer Jim Bazewicz and lighting designer Roman Klima created the spacious country home of Derek and Janet, while costumer Fran Harrison’s designs fit the demands of the characters perfectly. Additional credit goes to the effects work of properties designer Danielle Pietrowskier, for what is a mystery without special effects to add to the fun?

This may be, stripped to its barest details, a two-hour, two-act, four scene, four character play. But with everyone involved playing at the top of their games, Accomplice is really that rare beast — a comedic gem as well as a mystery that keeps the audience off its guard up until the very end. I strongly recommend catching a performance of Accomplice before it ends its brief run at the Bickford Theatre!

Accomplice is presented by the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morristown through February 4, 2018. For the performance schedule, tickets, and other information, visit morrismuseum.org.