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Prime Online Presents:
A Knavish Piece of Mystery

October 1st, 2020

Something strange is afoot at the New Town Theater. A dressing room is locked. Two actors are missing. And You are there to join the investigation as a cast and crew confront a mystery in which nothing is as it seems.

Get out your spy glasses and notepads … and prepare to take part in a behind-the-scenes adventure that explores the intersection of life and storytelling — an investigation in which You will discover that mysteries are everywhere.

To that end, after you finish listening, be sure to join the investigation by visiting the Prime Online Comments and Suggestions page, then plan to join us next Thursday as the mystery continues with Episode 2 of Prime Stage Theatre’s A Knavish Piece of Mystery. I’ll meet you there!

ARTICLES/PRESS:

PREVIOUS POSTS – Countdown to Mystery:

Countdown to Mystery: Locked Doors

September 30th, 2020

A woman enters a room. Closes the door. Then, from inside, a voice cries “Murder!” When her father breaks down the door, he finds her bleeding on the floor. She is alone. The windows are barred. There is no other exit. Yet the perpetrator is gone!

And so begins The Mystery of the Yellow Room (Le mystère de la chambre jaune) by Gaston Leroux (1908), a novel considered by many to be one of the greatest locked-door mysteries of all time.

Over the years, some of mystery’s greatest writers have tried their hand at the subgenre, each attempting to outdo those who went before. Consider, for example, this locked-door scenario from the back cover of the 1983 Signet reprint of Ellery Queen’s The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934):

No one had seen the fat man enter the luxurious suite; no one knew his name. All his clothes were on him backward, and all the furniture around him was reversed. The room […] was locked from the inside, and aside from him, was empty. [And now …] the man was dead.

How can you not want to read that one? And if you’re a writer, how could you not want to play in that sandbox?

In this series of posts, I’ve been recommending mysteries that feature elements you’ll find tomorrow should you accept Prime Time Theatre’s invitation to join me for the first installment of A Knavish Piece of Mystery. The story features an eccentric detective in the mold of St. John Lord Merridew (Sleuth) and Hercule Poirot (Murder on the Orient Express); a sidekick who complements the qualities of that detective (Zero Effect), an ensemble cast (The Last of Shelia, Murder on the Orient Express), a writer who blurs the lines between life and fiction (Sleuth) and a locked-room puzzle (The Mystery of the Yellow Room, The Chinese Orange Mystery). The fun starts tomorrow at Noon. I hope you’ll join us then … or any time during the days that follow.

That’s one of the nice things about podcast theatre. You can attend at your convenience. Here’s the link.

In the meantime, click the link below to view a 1931 adaptation of the locked-door mystery The Speckled Band, based on a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyal. It stars Raymond Massey (in his first starring role as a film actor) as the master sleuth and Athole Steward as his sidekick Dr. Watson.

Enjoy, then stop back tomorrow as we unlock the door to A Knavish Piece of Mystery.

Countdown to Mystery: Zero Effect

September 29th, 2020

Some of the greatest detectives don’t work alone. Think of Holmes and Watson, Cagney and Lacey, Batman and Robin.

You get the idea.

Among the most interesting pairings are Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, from the series that the members of Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention) nominated as the “Best Mystery Series of the Century” in 2000. What sets Stout’s detective team apart from most others is that Wolfe is a morbidly obese recluse who never leaves his home, while Goodwin is a gregarious womanizer – a kind of Wolfe-avatar who goes out into the world to investigate the mysteries that the reclusive mastermind contemplates in solitude.

The contrasting images below: Nero Wolfe depicted in The American Magazine (1940) and Archie Goodwin, The Saturday Evening Post (1958).

The Wolfe-Goodwin team has been featured in a number of stage and screen adaptation over the years, most recently in A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001-02), the A&E television series starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton.

There have also been a few films that seem loosely inspired by Rex Stout’s pairing of opposites, and it’s of these – the under-rated Zero Effect (1998) – that I’d like to recommend today.

Written and directed by Jake Kasdan, whose father Lawrence Kasdan wrote the mystery Body Heat (1981), Zero Effect centers on reclusive detective Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) who solves a complicated mystery with the help of assistant Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller). Though not as well know as my previous recommendations (Sleuth, Deathtrap, Murder on the Orient Express, The Last of Shelia), the Zero Effect is worthy of rediscovery – both for the ingenuity of its mystery and its odd detective team.

Despite its relative obscurity, Zero Effect is available across most streaming platforms as well as on DVD and VHS. Sadly, no Blu-ray or 4K.

I have one more recommendation as we countdown to Prime Stage Theatre’s upcoming A Knavish Piece of Mystery. Look for it tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy Zero Effect.

 

Countdown to Mystery: Deathtrap

September 26th, 2020

In our previous installment, I mentioned the meta-aspects of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth – a cat-and-mouse thriller about a writer who turns his estate into an interactive mystery in an effort to ensnare the man who’s been sleeping with his wife.

Today’s recommendation is Deathtrap (1982), and this time the story centers on playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Cain of Sleuth) whose latest play has just bombed on Broadway.

As one critic opines early in the film: “Sidney Bruhl’s new whodunit Murder Most Fair opened tonight at the Music Box. But there’s no point in you folks going there, ‘Cause I’m gonna tell you who done it. Sidney Bruhl done it. And what’s inexcusable is he done it in public.” Yikes!

Certain his career is over, Bruhl returns home where he receives a package from young playwright Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve).

Inside the package, Bruhl finds the script of Anderson’s unproduced play Deathtrap – a work of genius that Bruhl is convinced could be a smash. If only he himself had written it!

The plot, full of more twists and turns than I could ever summarize here, hinges on a scheme to invite Anderson to the Bruhl home, kill him, and pass off the brilliant new play as the work Sidney Bruhl.

Written by Ira Lavin (Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives), the stage version of Deathtrap opened in 1978 and went on to become Broadway’s longest-running comedy-thriller. Released four years later, the film version, may lack the wit and depth of Shaffer’s Sleuth, but it makes up for those shortcomings with a clever array of twists, turns, and double crosses – more than enough of them to keep us entertained while we continue our countdown to Prime Stage Theatre’s release of A Knavish Piece of Mystery.

Unlike Sleuth, Deathtrap is readily available on most major streaming platforms, including Prime and Vudu – where you can rent it in HD for $2.99. And, for those of you who prefer physical media, it’s also available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and VHS (for the true 80’s experience).

Check out the trailer below … and stop back here tomorrow for another recommendation as we count down to October 1, when Prime Online will kick off Prime Stage Theatre’s season of virtual performances with the release of A Knavish Piece of Mystery.

Five days and counting!