By Patricia Guthrie
Special to The Record
Dead, sort of dead, dead with a high probability of a second act.
Like a constantly changing weather forecast, delineations of life and death are choked, kicked, jolted and splayed around the stage during Outcast Productions’ premiere of “Over My Dead Body.”
Written by Whidbey playwright, actress and novelist Suzanne Kellman, the play was first presented as a staged reading last summer.
The dark comedy of corpses runs through Nov. 16 at Outcast’s Black Box Theatre in Langley. Tickets are $14-$18.
Director Gabe Harshman said he jumped at the chance to bring Kellman’s script to life because of the zany plot and the world premiere aspect of the production.
The story is set in “a slightly rundown community theater” and follows the small cast through auditions, rehearsals and opening night.
A murder occurs in the play within a play, and two actors are both dying to play the part of the corpse.
Ken Stephens is Malcom, an out-of-work actor looking to redeem his reputation after an unfortunate stage incident involving a beloved big bird.
He’s up against Caelen Coe, cast as Kenneth, who is a younger, more limber actor with a passion and portfolio for playing dead.
Their banter is brilliant.
“Dying is acting,” Kenneth declares to Malcom. “I’ve bit the dust, croaked, twitched 4,537 times.”
“I can die with the best of them,” Malcom retorts. “I have been with shows that opened and closed in the same night.”
Kenneth then declares if he doesn’t get the part, he’ll never “die in this town again.”
Their competition is anything but stiff as their hilarious hijinks to thwart the other result in much body bashing and thrashing.
“The physical antics are a little difficult for me,” admitted Stephens who has appeared in numerous Outcast and Island Shakespeare Festival productions. “I’ve collected a fair share of bruises. That being said, we did spend time choreographing those scenes to avoid injury.”
Coe, the youngest in the cast at age 21, earned his acting chops at Whidbey Children’s Theater. In his first major role working with adults, Coe’s conniving character comes across as he lurks in the shadows of the set with a delightful range of droll facial expressions.
Playwright Kellman just starred in the one-woman powerhouse play, “Shirley Valentine” last month at Outcast. While that production spotlighted her effusive acting (and ability to memorize 68 pages of script), “Over My Dead Body” shows off her dead-on sense of comedic timing, quick-witted dialogue and her travails in the trenches of community theater.
Born in England, Kellman has been involved in numerous capacities at local theaters since moving to Whidbey 20 years ago. Her husband Matt Wilson, a Boeing engineer in real life, once again is dragged on stage by his wife, this time to play an electrician looking for a spark of respect.
All of the foibles of local, amateur theater are spoofed— pretentious “act-tores,” angst-ridden producers, weary volunteers and programs perennially printed with glaring errors.
Which may be or may not be why the program for “Over My Dead Body” contains a few glitches.
No big deal since the audience will likely be fully engaged tracking the body blows and body count in the two-act play.
The sky-high not-so-sensible shoes of Kathryn Sandy O’Brien also stand out, along with her wonderful, witty performance of Dorothy, a housemaid who discovers the body — or bodies.
She is hilarious playing an aging actress doing her dim-witted best to follow the stage directions of Alex, played by Ned Farley, who is also the producer of “Over My Dead Body” and Outcast’s artistic director.
“With Dorothy, I saw her as a pretty harmless community actor, getting older and still wanting to believe she is a viable performer,” O’Brien said.
“I prefer these kind of quirky characters. While I am doing them, I get lost in their do-no-harm innocence. I guess I am Dorothy at this age.”
A longtime professional dancer and actress, O’Brien founded Outcast Productions nine years ago with Farley.
“Our focus was to make sure we could provide some socially conscious theater as well as new works,” she said. “Theater teaches, unravels, reveals and runs around being silly. How can you not be in love with theater?
- The Outcast production of “Over My Dead Body” is at Black Box Theatre, 819 Camano Ave., Langley. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8, 9, 14, 16 and 17 and 4 p.m. on Nov. 10. For more information: www.outcastproductions.net.