There are only a couple of things you can truly be sure of when you settle in your seat to watch Accomplice, the first play in the new White Rock Players’ season (opening Oct. 12, 8 p.m., at Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd.).
1. Playwright Rupert Holmes is the same Rupert Holmes who wrote and sang the 1979-80 pop hit Escape (The Pina Colada Song).
He was also responsible for the 1986 Tony award-winner The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which turned an unfinished Charles Dickens’ novel into a musical.
2. Accomplice is not a musical.
But everything else about this comedy-mystery-thriller is open to question, director David Lloyd Austin (The Passion of Dracula) admits.
A bit of a bomb when it first arrived on Broadway in 1990 – it clearly confused a staid, traditionalist audience – the show has become something of a cause celebre that has been gathering momentum ever since.
It’s a clever conundrum in a similar vein to Anthony Shaffer’s plays Sleuth and Whodunnit, a brain-teaser guaranteed to make all but the most alert scratch their heads at the surprising revelations in store.
Forget the old standby description: ‘nothing quite is what it seems.’ Accomplice leaves it in the dust.
“The marketing line they used in 1990 was ‘whatever you see and hear in the first act – don’t believe a word of it’,” Austin said.
He remembers his own reaction when he first read the play, sitting on a beach near his current part-time residence in Bucerias, north of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.
“I came to a certain page in the script and said, out loud, ‘where the hell did that come from?’” he recalled with a chuckle.
Holmes’ elaborately constructed puzzle has so many twists and turns, Austin said, that – quite apart from his wish not to give anything away – it actually beggars description.
He agreed that, in its multiple layers, it’s not unlike one of those Russian wooden dolls that encloses many other versions of itself.
There’s no harm in stating that Accomplice opens as a traditional English mystery thriller of the kind beloved by fans of Agatha Christie. A renovated mill house on the moors provides the setting for a conversation between the residents, married couple Derek and Janet Taylor – a conversation that soon takes a sinister turn.
That’s only the beginning of the fun and deception, however.
One shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Accomplice is also very much a satire, Austin said.
“It’s quite hilarious, actually. But it’s got to be done straight. The actors have to realize that they’re not funny – it’s the lines that are funny. We’ll keep our fingers crossed – it’s the toughest kind of theatre to do.”
There’s no doubt, however, that he has enlisted some strong talents for the challenge.
The first-seen couple are played by well-known players Ben Odberg and Lori Tych, both recent Community Theatre Coalition award nominees for their leading roles in last season’s Earth and Sky.
Joining them on stage are equally familiar face Brent Cross, along with relative newcomer Sunny Stump.
“Ben is coming up with some fantastic ideas and Lori is so believable,” Austin said.
“Even when she’s backstage or asking for a line, she does it in character – she’s known for that. Brent is growing and learning all the time, and while Sunny hasn’t done as much she plays a perfect character role in this.”
What changes Austin has made in the current version of Accomplice are aimed principally at clarity, he noted.
“I said to the White Rock Players ‘I’ll do it, but I have to simplify it’,” he said.
“Holmes himself says he realizes that not many theatre groups are able to do this, technically. We have to make sure there is clarity in the scene breaks, to give that extra second or two to let people absorb what’s just happened.”
But there is one hint for those who love to solve a puzzle – be sure to give careful scrutiny to the program you’re handed as you go into the theatre.
“It’s unique – even the program plays an important part in the plot,” Austin said.
Accomplice runs until Oct. 29, with performances Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee on Oct. 23. For tickets, call 604-536-7535, or visit www.whiterockplayers.ca