Murder, comedy collide in SVSU production of ‘Death by Design’

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SVSU’s theatre department performed “Death by Design” from Wednesday, Feb. 21 to Sunday, Feb. 25.

“Death by Design” follows Edward Bennett, a playwright, and Sorel Bennett, his actress wife, through a comical murder mystery. After a guest, Walter Pearce, is allegedly murdered in their home, the Bennetts’ maid, Bridgit, takes the lead to solve the crime.

Theatre and political science junior Brianne Dolney played Sorel Bennett.

“Sorel is a stage actress and the wife of playwright Edward Bennett,” Dolney said. “She is fantastically dramatic and extra in every way, shape and form.”

Dolney found it easy to get into character.

“I didn’t have too hard of a time getting into character for this show,” Dolney said. “The playwright provides a lot of direction in the way he wrote Sorel, and she jumped off the page the very first time I read the script over the summer. Of course, fully embodying Sorel and all her mannerisms came in time with rehearsals as I fleshed out the character.”

Rehearsals were fun yet stimulating for her.

“Rehearsals for this show were pretty laid back,” Dolney said. “Because of the style of the show, we all really just got to get together and have a lot of fun each day as we put the pieces together. I’ve done multiple shows with [theatre professor] Ric Roberts as my director, so it was a pretty standard process that I’m quite used to. They were neither difficult nor easy. Overall, I’d describe this rehearsal process as a fun challenge.”

Theatre sophomore Abigail Burgess played Bridgit, the Bennetts’ maid and head of the murder investigation.

She enjoyed watching the show come together during rehearsals.

“Rehearsals were great,” Burgess said. “It’s really fun to watch the entire cast come together as an ensemble through the rehearsal process.”

Despite the fun, Burgess still found it difficult to perfect her character.

“I think the most difficult part for me was aging my character appropriately and having that show through my vocal and physical quality,” Burgess said. “The easiest was watching the comedy of the show unfold. With this show being a farce, the script lends itself so well to many very comedic moments.”

Burgess especially enjoyed performing the end of Act One with her cast mates.

“It’s a heavily choreographed sequence, and it’s a lot of fun,” Burgess said.

Theatre education sophomore Conner Wieland played the Bennetts’ butler.

“I play Jack, the Bennetts’ chauffer-butler who has a friendly relationship with his employers,” Wieland said. “Jack is the comic relief within the show.”

Wieland believed that audience members would like his character.

“Jack is a very likable character,” Wieland said. “He is a lady’s man, which seems to get him in trouble from time to time.”

Unlike other plays Wieland has done, “Death by Design” has all eight cast members on stage for the majority of the play.

“The hardest part of performing in this show (was having) all eight of us on stage most of the time,” Wieland said. “In other shows, there are scenes connecting each other and different characters are in and out of scenes, but, with ‘Death by Design,’ the characters add on, and once you are on stage, you are out there for most of the time.”

Before performances began, Burgess said she hoped the audience would enjoy the show as much as the cast did.

Her cast mates agreed with her.

“I hope the audience leaves with a sense of mystery and adventure,” Wieland said. “I hope they share a good laugh.”

Dolney concurred with Wieland.

“I hope that audience members will leave the show with a simple smile,” Dolney said. “Although it’s a mystery and keeps you on your toes, I see this show as a little escape from the stress of everyday life, something to bring you into another world for a couple of hours and make you chuckle.”

Many audience members, such as per-occupational therapy freshman Selena McCray, did in fact enjoy the comedy.

“It was very comical,” McCray said. “I am glad I came.”

Pre-nursing sophomore Sarah Shaffer found Sorel especially amusing.

“I really liked Sorel,” she said. “She was such an over-the-top character, but she was fun to watch onstage. I especially enjoyed Act Two, where we could finally see the murder mystery and the clues come together.”

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