Murder Center Stage
Excerpt 1: All of us deserve to die
Excerpt 2: Slaying ’em in the aisles

Actually, the interrogation was more of a job interview because my friend Larry – a lovable giant of a man, UC Berkeley-educated trauma therapist, and frequent consultant for the Cleveland police – recommended that I serve as the detective’s cultural liaison on this case. A no-nonsense crime solver, she is also a fish out of water in the world of theater.

I accepted, in part, because I was so relieved not to be a suspect. But I have skin in the game as a cast member and, when the arrest is made, I would love to be in the room where it happens. And as a columnist for the Chronicle, I’d like the scoop. The detective asked that I meet her at the theater tomorrow morning to walk her through the musical number when the murder occurred.

Larry and a date, along with my wife Patty and a few other friends, acquaintances and work colleagues, were here to see me in the show’s opening night performance. Actually, Larry is a huge fan of Sondheim musicals, so it’s fair to say that he was here to see “Sweeney Todd.” He owns one suit, the sad brown one he is currently wearing, preferring to private practice his craft in baggy sweaters woven by his ex-wife from what looks like the matted fur of woolly mammoths.

He apparently asked the detective if he could be of professional assistance since he was already at the crime scene.

Larry and I leave through the stage door in the rear and find his car in the now-vacant patron parking lot for a ride home. Patty left with our car hours ago.

“Sorry about your loss,” says Larry. “You OK?”

“I guess. Thanks. Oh, Patty brought home your friend, in case you were wondering. Quite the memorable first date. It will be a hard one to top.”

“It will be our romantic go-to story when we are married, old, and gray,” murmurs Larry, who seems exhausted. “‘Hey, honey, remember our first date when there was that homicide and then I abandoned you at the theater?’ We’ll name our children Sweeney, Lovett and Tobias.”

“And Beadle Bamford.”

“Ah, he’s the needy, evil sidekick of Judge Turpin who does all his dirty work. A good name for a middle child. Little Beadle Bamford.”

“What’s your date’s name?”

“No idea.”

“I kind of wish you hadn’t suggested that I help Detective Brandstätter on the case. I’d be home already, in bed and asleep. Plus, I didn’t see anything when I was on stage. And this is my theater family I’m expected to rat out. Like being a critic in the cast wasn’t hard enough.”

“You’re being a critic is exactly what the detective is counting on,” says Larry with an exasperated sigh. “The murder that happened tonight was very much a well-orchestrated performance staged before a select audience. You can review it for her.”

“Uh … no.”

“Come on! How well was tonight’s play-within-a-play orchestrated? Why all the drama of an onstage execution? The detective really needs your help. She’ll never figure out that whole upstage/downstage and stage right/stage left thing on her own.”

“No.”

“Do you remember the last time I was your plus-one at a show?” asks Larry. “You were reviewing the Great Lakes Theater production of some famous murder mystery?”

“That was ‘And Then There Were None,’ which was based on the old Agatha Christie novel.”

“Five minutes into the play, you leaned over and casually told me who you thought the murderer was and, of course, you were right. Ruined the whole evening for me, but that was some brilliant deduction. Just do what you did for ‘And Then There Were None’ with ‘Sweeney Todd’.”

“I knew who the murderer was in the play because I had read the novel.”

“Ah. Well, then good luck tomorrow.”

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