‘Drop Dead!’ blends comedy with metatheatre

Actors from “Drop Dead!” depict a scene from the comedy play. (Courtesy of Jason Ounpraseuth)

Jason Ounpraseuth
Connector Contributor

A sold-out crowd was perplexed and left with laughs after watching the murder-mystery comedy “Drop Dead!” put on by the Off-Broadway Players Friday night at UMass Lowell’s Comley-Lane Theater.

“Drop Dead!” was written by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore and directed by JT Turner.

The main concept of the play is that, while on the surface the story follows the wealthy Barrington family who are attempting to solve the murder of their late father, the plot is actually focused on a fictional group of actors who are attempting to perform their own rendition of the fictional play “Drop Dead!” while also trying to solve a series of bizarre murders that are occurring both during rehearsal as well as opening night of the show itself.

The whole scope of the play throughout the two acts felt so much bigger than what was presented thanks to the little nuances in dialogue, in the actors and in ambience.

The characters may be inept actors, but the actual cast was far from it. Each actor played their respective character within the show as well as that character’s role in the show-within-a-show very seamlessly. There were little nuances in the dialogue and in the actor’s performances making the whole scope of the play feel so much bigger then it normally would have been.

The show also has a lot of fun playing with the concept of a fictional play going horribly wrong. To give an example, Brent Reynolds/Alexander Barrington in the play’s play would have a spotlight on him and go on about snow and how horrid it was to him. There is no explanation to why snow has this effect on the character and is never brought up by any of the others, but the fact that there is no explanation is why it is so humorous.

In fact, even in the context of the play there is no explanation, as the fictional screenwriter has removed all the scenes that could possibly give context to Alexander’s rants, leaving the audience with an actor screaming in terror over something as simple as snow.

Another highlight of the play was the use of lighting, not only to accentuate what was “real” and “fictional” in the context of the story, but also to subvert those expectations as the story progressed. The heavy lighting would indicate that actor characters were interreacting with Director Victor Le Pewe, Producer P.G. “Piggy” Banks, and original Playwright Alabama Miller, and the dimmer lights would indicate that the play within the play is going on.

However, as it continues to take victims and the body count begins to exceed those of the characters in the fictional play, the lighting shifts prove to be mute as the line between the fictional play and the actors performing it slowly fades, much to the terror of the characters.

“Drop Dead!” delivered on its premise of a murder-mystery comedy and surpassed those expectations. There were many great laughs and visual gags, and the play brought an interesting mystery that paid off and did not leave anything out for the audience’s enjoyment.

Final Grade: A

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