Secondary Cause of Death, the middle installment in Peter Gordon's comic whodunit trilogy, recently ran its scatterbrained course through the "cranial frontal lobotomies" of Rivertown Rep audiences. That phrase is typical of the malapropisms delivered by the poised though hilariously dim-witted Inspector Pratt (Michael P. Sullivan), the central figure in the play. Pratt inspires little confidence in Scotland Yard. In fact, one quickly realizes the rest of the force could be staffed by Groucho, Chico and Harpo.
The play takes place in the library of an English manor during spring 1939. World War II is brewing and the work borrows innumerable complications from international politics. The narrative connecting the 10 characters (at least three of whom are secret agents) is a cluster of plots and subplots delivered in a barrage of verbal onslaughts.
Gathered in the manor are its owner, Col. Charles Craddock (Reggie Hendry), and a ham actor — who bears a striking resemblance to the Colonel named Cardew Longfellow, (also played by Hendry). There is Lady Isadora Pollock (Vicki Hymel Lighter), the Polish Count Puchlik of Puszcykowo (Jim Chimento), an English army officer, Capt. Henrietta Woolmer-Cardington (Andrea Watson) and Nurse Ann Parsley (Kelly Barberito), who is intent on attracting the wealthy, aging manor owner. Due to a mishap, housekeeper Martha Armstrong was played by director Roland "Butch" Caire Jr. in drag in the performance I attended.
There are two levels of narrative. On the psychological level, we learn the colonel inherited the manor when his murderous wife was committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. On the skullduggery level, a slew of characters are revealed to be secret agents and counteragents.
There are a dozen or so murders, and Pratt tries to maintain an air of Holmesian superiority, but to no avail. As if the complications weren't devilish enough, Cynthia Maple (Linda Hubchen) is creating a mystery minidrama employing the people in the manor.
Caire directed this pandemonium in broad strokes — at times, a bit too broad. But the cast was talented and generally did a good job. Rivertown Rep intends to produce Death By Fatal Mistake, the last play in the trilogy, during the coming season. — Dalt Wonk