A Classic Comic Murder Mystery
Sleuthing out 'Accomplice' is no small task

Derek and Janet (Todd and Amber Hanson) argue in a scene from "Accomplice."

Scott Schultz discovered early on that he enjoys directing much more than performing on stage. "I'm definitely a better director than I am an actor," he quips. "It was 2014 that I took my first stab at directing up at the college (COCC), and I haven't stopped since." Rupert Holmes' "Accomplice," on stage now through next weekend at 2nd Street Theater, marks Schultz' eighth go at it - and judging by the opening night performance last Friday, the director has found his true calling.

"Accomplice" is Holmes' second Broadway play, after his highly successful musical, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," which premiered at the Imperial Theatre in 1985. The musical won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Leading Actor. "Accomplice" premiered on Broadway in 1990.

"I've never directed a murder mystery," Schultz told the Source Weekly. "They've always interested me, but I never thought I would direct anything near one. I like dark comedy; comedic plays are more my style. But reading it a couple of times, I could see the humor is exactly my style."

Set in mid-1970s England, the play is a sort of classic, comic murder mystery. "The first half is more the murder mystery, very British, very Agatha Christie if you will," Schultz says. "Then Act Two just throws that out the window and the humor and the jokes just come in non-stop."

Catherine Christie gets to have perhaps the most fun on the set as Melinda, aka Harley, a ditzy young diva-wannabe getting her first shot at a "serious" role in her friend Derek's new play. Husband and wife team Todd and Amber Hanson, playing long-married couple Derek and Janet Taylor, also get to have some fun, via a slew of comic one-liners.

"The first half is more the murder mystery, very British, very Agatha Christie if you will. Then Act Two just throws that out the window and the humor and the jokes just come in non-stop."

In one scene, Derek offers his wife an antacid tablet, saying: "Try one? No? Could it be that I am how you spell relief?" Janet replies: "No, not since our honeymoon, sweetie."

In the Friday night performance, understudy Levi Wagoner got to play Melinda's husband Jon, one of the first characters to reveal that he was not who he professed to be, a role otherwise occupied by Thoroughly Modern Productions' Artistic Director David DaCosta.

Surprising turns are the crux of the twisted tale, in which almost nothing you see can be believed to be true. Playwright Holmes takes plot twists to such an extreme level that it's sure to take even the most seasoned theatre fan by surprise. "It's such a unique play. It makes fun of theatre in general. It's such a perfect way to break that wall, and poke fun at actors - although I have never experienced anyone as hard to work with as Harley!" (At one point Harley halts production when she acquires a sudden distaste for a particular aspect of her role.)

In the opening scene, Janet and Derek banter about after Derek comes home early from his day at work. Come to find out, Janet is actually playing out a practiced alibi for the ensuing attempted spousal homicide - or so it seems. Things just keep getting dicier as it becomes more and more apparent that just about everyone is out to murder somebody else, at all levels in the layered tale. All is eventually revealed, thankfully, though in appropriately unconventional fashion, of course.

The play is not recommended for children. It has no specific age minimum, but between the sexual references and the complex turns of plot, it may be best to leave the kiddos at home.

"It's a really fun show, but it isn't quite the show for children," Schultz offers. "There is brief, very brief nudity, and there's a gunshot that goes off during Act Two. Also, there's a ridiculous amount of plot twists. Everyone should come see it, but I strongly recommend leaving little ones at home. A young mind might find this extremely boring, while the adults are laughing inexplicably."

Go for a slew of good laughs, and have fun trying to sleuth out who is up to what.

Tait Ruppert & Lilli Marques
Rupert Holmes "Accomplice," now at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, is the perfect piece for all of those smarty pants folks out there who figure everything out from the get-go. You know the ones-they claim they figured out "The Usual Suspects" in the first five minutes and had the number of "The Sixth Sense" in about the same amount of time. You'll get tickets for a seat, but you'll only need the edge of it. This is perfect dark chocolate joy-a piece for lovers of who-dun-it shows like "Sleuth" and "Murder on the Orient Express," who don't care whether the butler did it, but rather HOW.

Holmes has won Edgars and Tonys for his work in the theatre, remember "Mystery of Edwin Drood," and if you don't know Edgar, he's the award given by the Mystery Writers of America. This play is full of dazzling razor-sharp wit that may take a moment or two to sink in-it's only when you see the blood that you realize there's been contact. It is superbly funny with visual puns as well as aural ones and there are surprises at every turn. Just when you think you know where you're going, you'll hear the Siri-voice in your head, "Recalculating," and know that once again, you're lost in the Moors and waiting for the fog to lift.

When you see this show, just be sure to keep the dènouement to yourself. That same joy you'll feel in being clever should be experienced by all.

Brush up on your late 20th century historical references and special enjoyment will be had by devotees of British detective shows and humor. See "Accomplice" before it takes it on the lam!

BWW Review: ACCOMPLICE at Bickford Theatre At The Morris Museum is Clever and Captivating

A scandal is afoot in Morristown! Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum is presenting a night full of dark twists and surprises diabolical enough to make you want to fix yourself a stiff drink. Witty, clever dialogue spins a sumptuous web leaving the audience listfully waiting for the next curveball to spring out from the actors' witty lips. Accomplice is brilliantly directed by the theatre's Producing Artistic Director, Eric Hafen whose staging allows for the plot to unfold in a fun and raucous manner. He truly brings the audience along for a wild ride.
The play features sharp performances by Tait Ruppert, Emaline Williams, Lilli Marques, and Mike Newman who portray deliciously devious and multi-layered characters with seamless ease. It's truly amazing how such irredeemable schemers can also be so captivating. The play is electrifying on many levels and Bickford Theatre is the perfect venue for this intimate, and I do mean intimate, murder mystery.

Collaborating on Accomplice as part of the Creative Team is Production Stage Manager, Leanne Long-Hulin; Scenic Designer, Jim Bazewicz; Lighting Designer,Roman Klima; Costume Designer, Fran Harrison; and Properties Designer, Dani Pietrowski.

Accomplice is written by Tony-award winner Rupert Holmes who also wrote the original music for the show. This is a production that will truly keep you guessing until the very end!

"Accomplice": murder has never been such fun!

By Allen Neuner

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.

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': Twists, twists and more twists in comedic thriller at Bickford Theatre


WARREN WESTURA Of course I won't reveal the big twists that are part of "Accomplice", the comedic thriller that is currently being presented at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morris Township. I don't want to ruin the surprises. I can't even tell you how many there are because, honestly, I lost count. Let's just say, there are a ton of them.

Playwright Rupert Holmes - best known, probably, for making the pop charts with "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" and other songs in the '70s and '80s, though he is also a prolific, Tonywinning playwright - takes giddy delight in finding ways to build twist upon twist upon twist. Even better, each one comes as a genuine shock: He doesn't telescope them in obvious ways, though he does wink playfully at the audience, letting us know he's self-consciously playing around with the conventions of the comedic thriller. "That's exactly how all those plays begin," one character sighs at the start of the first scene, after making what he thinks is a typical entrance for a comedic thriller.

Perhaps Holmes goes a bit too far in the final twist. At some point, you do become numb to extreme craziness, and Holmes does, arguably, go a little past that point. But this is a minor flaw. Bottom line: "Accomplice" is a lot of fun.

Four actors - Tait Ruppert, Emaline Williams, Lilli Marques and Mike Newman - play two British couples (Derek and Janet, and Jon and Melinda). Derek is rich but lazy; Jon is the star employee who keeps his company profitable. The two couples are spending a weekend together at Derek and Janet's country cottage (whose modest, earth-toned charm is effectively evoked by scenic designer Jim Bazewicz). Beyond that, I can't really say anything about the plot without giving things away, since the twists start at the end of the first scene, and little is what it seems at first.

"Accomplice" was first produced in 1989, and it's a smart move by the Bickford Theatre's producing artistic director, Eric Hafen (who also directs this production), to revive it, with Holmes contributing some updated cultural references. It may be nearly 30 years old, but it still feels fresh and bracingly irreverent. I highly recommend it.