Kill the Moment

Writing a mystery or thriller is like designing a good crossword puzzle: there's a lot of interdependent information; if one thing changes, there's a cascading effect, and you often have to start over and reconceive the whole thing. In Scott Gibson's new play, Kill the Moment, the complexities of the plot are challenging, and even the most experienced armchair sleuths will find themselves readjusting their notion of whodunit more than a few times.

Gibson, who has won a number of local and regional awards for his writing, relishes putting his audiences on edge, and he certainly does that throughout this tale, using a variety of tricks—including blackouts, indeterminate noises, off-stage rumblings, well-timed entrances and exits, accessible weaponry, faces at the window, and a bloodied hostage—to maintain a steady flow of adrenaline.

Photo of (L-R) Jillann Tafel (Carol Ann), Stephen Pearce (Gus) and Missy Moore (Gina)
(L-R) Jillann Tafel (Carol Ann),
Stephen Pearce (Gus)
and Missy Moore (Gina)
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Set in a remote California mountain cabin—with exquisite log construction by Biz Schaugaard, topped off by a stunning stone fireplace courtesy of Gov Landrum—the action revolves around a Hollywood actress, Gina, who recently ran over her wealthy husband, Kyle, accidentally or otherwise.

Like magpies to road kill, Kyle's business manager, Carol Ann, and a couple of seedy gentlemen callers, Trent and Gus, gather around Gina, waiting for the insurance payoff.

Photo of Missy Moore (Gina) and Stephen Pierce (Gus)
Missy Moore (Gina)
and Stephen Pierce (Gus)
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Each of the four actors brings his or her own brand of quirkiness to a script that depends on deception, duplicity, and daring. Brimming with the inflated ego and Machiavellian heart of a scheming starlet, Missy Moore's Gina is capable of anything, making her a worthy and noble combatant in this fray, far beyond the wimps on so-called Survivor.

At first we think she has an ally in Carol Ann, but this opinion changes with nearly every scene. Here, Jillann Tafel's inscrutable characterization feeds on the constant stream of suspicions flowing from the twists and turns of the story.

Photo of Josh Hartwell (Trent) and Jillann Tafel (Carol Ann)
Josh Hartwell (Trent)
and Jillann Tafel (Carol Ann)
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Josh Hartwell, who did such chilling work in Gibson's successful production of Brimstone and Treacle a couple of seasons ago, makes us shiver at Trent's insincere smiles and sinister outbursts. Stephen Pearce's Gus, on the other hand, can lie with disarming sincerity and then turn around and murder in cold blood.

In short, the four characters are equally capable of doing away with anyone, which of course is one of the delicious contrivances of this genre. At times, though, we have to take it on faith that the rapid-fire calculations of the schemers make sense. As the drama thickens, and the clues begin to come fast and furious, the permutations and combinations of outcomes begin to grow exponentially in a manner only the Rainman could follow.

There are, also, a couple of staging issues—what seems like back-to-back, turn-your-back-to-the-audience exits upstage in the first act; and an ending that needs to signal finality—that can be easily ironed out.

To Gibson's credit, he keeps the red herrings and dead-end clues to a minimum—a couple of aliases, incidental props, and a few seemingly suggestive comments—and concentrates on the intricacies of the conspiracies. By the time the plotters have all come back from certain deaths, we are as blood-spattered and worn out as they are and wholly content to settle for the uncertain truce between those left alive and still sputtering.

Conundrum Productions' Kill the Moment runs through May 21st. 303.601.2640.

Bob Bows


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