Review: Whodunit shows darker side of Tinseltown

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

“Welcome to Hollywood. Did you think it was all tinsel and star-shine? It’s hard work, long hours, sweating under hot lights and getting screwed on contracts … it’s Seconal, suicides, stewing in scotch and having your heart crushed into the dust we all eventually come to. That is the so-called ‘tinsel’ of Tinseltown.”

So says Elijah Samson, the jaded Hollywood veteran played by writer/director Daniel Stallings in his latest production – “What Happens at Sundown.”

Stallings founded Master Mystery Productions in 2015 and has written more than a dozen murder mysteries set in Hollywood, on the moon and everywhere in between. Tuesday’s dress rehearsal of “Sundown” was my first MMP experience and I had to pause and ask myself, “have I been under a rock these last three years?”

In a town where live theater, surprisingly, isn’t that difficult to come by, Stallings adds a unique, interactive experience that’s funny, magnetic, dramatic, compelling and truly enjoyable.

And fans of previous MMP shows will be delighted to discover some of the easter eggs hidden throughout the performance, hearkening back to older productions like “Goodbye Hollywood.”

Picture, if you will, Hollywood in the 1960s. Two aging starlets – Helena Rothschild and Kim Hyatt – are on location in the Mojave desert. A good location “for those westerns ... or some science fiction spectacular about ape-men [wink, wink],” says one of the women.

Helena and Kim, played by Monica Lorenz and Leslie Blake, are once superstars whose star power is waning with their youthful looks. Kim is recovering from a mysterious hospital stay and Helena surely has more than a few skeletons in her closet.

Madam, played by Cat Kreidt, is the openly-callous television writer/director/producer who appears she would claw at somebody with her perfectly-manicured nails just as soon as she’d shake a hand.

Miss Lockwood (Amber Stull), Madam’s assistant, has no love for her employer while Mr. Samson appears to be cynical about everything.

A point of light appears in the form of optimistic Hollywood newcomer Victoria Camden (Rebecca Witherall). But even the young Camden is trying hard to ignore the hushed rumors on set about her dark past.

All the while Bob, the cold, sleazy cameraman, leers on.

The lights go out. A clamor is heard. A man is murdered, and somebody’s responsible!

From there, it’s up to this talented cast of dubious characters, and the audience with the help of Stallings’ clever dialogue, to determine who is responsible for this mysterious crime.

Was it the less-than-stable Kim? The seemingly-naive Victoria? The cut-throat Madam? Or someone else entirely? Pay close attention, the show breaks before the end to give the audience a chance to process the clues, some being rather subtle, and try to crack the case (not to brag, but I correctly guessed the perp AND the motive. No big deal).

As for the standout performances, Stallings also asks that attendees nominate their favorite actors and actresses for recognition at the end of the production. So in regards to who gives the most luminous performance? I guess you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

“Sundown” is playing Friday Sept. 21 and Saturday Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m. at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $20 at Red Rock Books and at the door. The audience is invited to come dressed in their “Hollywood finest.” For more info find Master Mystery Productions on Facebook.

The play features some thematic content and mild language and isn’t recommended for children.

Story First Published: 2018-09-20