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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: 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:
Murder on the Orient Express

September 27th, 2020

We’re counting down to Prime Stage Theatre’s release of A Knavish Piece of Mystery, the first installment in a roster of virtual programming running this fall on Prime Online. The series has been generating good press in the past few days, with preview stories appearing on Local Pittsburgh and Trib Live. And I understand there are more to come in the next few days. Stay tuned!

Our two previous posts highlighted Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth and Ira Levin’s Deathtrap. Both feature writers who find themselves caught in real-life mysteries, a device that you will also find featured in the forthcoming Knavish Piece.

Today, we’ll consider Murder on the Orient Express, the Agatha Christie who-done-in that began life as a novel (1934) and went on to become a well-regarded film (1974) directed by Sidney Lumet.

The plot centers on Christie’s Hercule Poirot, a master detective in the mold of St. John Lord Merridew (Sleuth) and Augustus LaFleur (A Knavish Piece), who investigates a murder on a snowbound train. The ensemble cast is at the top of their game, and the film has the kind of style and elegance you’d expect from one of cinema’s greatest directors.

While selecting plays and films to highlight in this series of posts, I was initially tempted to recommend Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which has the distinction of being the longest-running play in theatre history (opening in London in 1952!), but, as a film version is not readily available and live performances are on hiatus, I have decided to go with the more accessible Express.

(Theatrical aside: Both The Mousetrap and A Knavish Piece take their titles from the same source. Can you name it?)

Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express is readily available on most major streaming platforms, including Prime and Vudu. And, for those of you who prefer physical media, it’s also available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and VHS.

There’s also a remake (2017) directed by Kenneth Branagh and produced by Ridley Scott. Though not as well regarded as Lumet’s film, the newer version is likewise available on Prime, Vudu, and the usual assortment of physical media (including 4K!).

That’s it for now. Check out the trailer below, and I’ll meet you back here tomorrow for another recommendation.

Four days and counting!

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!