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Death kills and Fiddler raises the rafters

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North Coast Repertory Theatre presents Rob Urbinati's Death by Design: A Comedy with Murder, directed by Scott Malcolm. The play is set within a week in an English country Manor in the 1930s. It's a wonderful comedy, peopled with fascinating characters who are all capable of murder.

Edward Bennet, a playwright, and his wife and leading lady Sorrell Bennet head to Cookham after a disastrous opening night. The two torment each other in the company of their maid Brigit and doorman Jack, relishing the idea of killing one another. The night is interrupted by various uninvited guests — a conservative politician, a fiery socialist, a nearsighted ingénue, a bohemian artist — each with their own lustful desires and political agendas. All the characters butt heads so much that by the time a body turns up, everyone has expressed murderous motives. Then it is left to Bridgit, the sassy Irish maid, to solve the crime.

The play is called Death by Design, but don't expect the key to the perfect murder. Urbinati's weapon of choice is laughter, as the play is filled with puns, one-liners and crazy references. Thanks to the directing of Scott Malcolm, these are executed perfectly. Since this show is set in England, it can be hard to understand the actors at times through their accents, but they all persevere.

Toodie Boll's performance as the gossip driven, crime-solving maid is phenomenal. There is never a moment on stage where she drops character and she's fully involved with the others on stage with her. Edward Bennet, played by Anders Carlson, seems less engaged and Carlson has to work for the laughs at his one-liners. As his wife Sorrell, Jacqui Cain entertains, playing the half-witted woman seamlessly.

Costume designer Laura Rhinehart creates the realm of the 1930s bourgeois flawlessly, adding an element to the way each actor walks and moves as his or her character. Costumes also bring another level of secrecy, concealing weapons and truths, and connecting everyone to the deceased.

Scenery design is by Anthony De Page and lighting is by Liz Uhazy. Death by Design continues its run through April 18 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For more information, call 442-6278.

At Ferndale Repertory Theatre, Fiddler on the Roof takes the stage with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. The classic musical from 1964 is based on the tale Tevye and his Daughters by Sholem Aleichem. The musical talents of the FRT company and the funny, emotional and engaging production are more than worthy of Friday's standing ovation.

For dozens of years, Yente the matchmaker has been arranging marriages between the rich and poor. Tevye and his wife Golde have five daughters and hope to mary them into rich families for a better life. Tevye does so with his oldest, Tzeitel. But when she hears the news of her match, she begs her father to reconsider. That's when Motel, the village tailor, expresses his desire to marry Tzeitel. Tevye decides to grant his daughter happiness and defy tradition. Hodel, the second oldest daughter, also falls in love. She announces her engagement and Tevye again goes against tradition. Chava, the third oldest daughter, marries behind her father's back. Tevye feels as though he has bent tradition too far and contemplates his future with God in asides on stage while the rest of the actors are frozen. Tevye attempts to maintain the religious and cultural traditions tested by his daughters' choices as the czar's edict forces the Jews from their village.

Tevye, played by Craig Benson, has a strength and power in his voice that could convince anyone of his belief in the traditions of a Russian Jewish village in the 1900s. Benson reveals a variety of emotions as Tevye's family is broken apart; he performs a concerned and disappointed father who has rubbed off on his daughters. In response, Brianna Schatz brings out great courage in her character, Hodel, when she leaves the village to be with her husband.

From the right of the stage, the harmonies of the men and women singing of tradition and merriment are accompanied by a small live band that doesn't overpower the voices. The vocals are matched with perfectly timed choreography, as props, and even people, are thrown around among the actors.

Directed by Leira V. Satlof, the play runs through April 12 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. with a special performance on Thursday, April 2 at 8 p.m. Call 786-5483 for more information.

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Samantha Kolby

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