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Thumbs mostly Up for Comic Mystery

Stage Coach Theatre presents strange thriller


Stage Coach Theatre's love affair with Tony Award-winning playwright Rupert Holmes continues with their current production of Thumbs, Holmes' comic murder mystery with the twists and turns we have come to expect from this modern writer.

Holmes is the author of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Solitary Confinement and Accomplice. Audiences loved his long-running television series "Remember WENN" about the World War II years at a radio station. Director Don Walker is very pleased to be presenting this show and Holmes provided original music and his voice for a radio announcement during the show, thanks to his previous contact with Walker.

In a play like Thumbs, as so much of the impact and excitement depends upon revelations and surprises, a review should not spoil the fun for viewers. It is safe to report the action takes place in an isolated cabin in the mountains of Barnstock, Vermont, and the area has been shocked by a series of murders with a grisly trademark: The killer removes the victims' thumbs!

Living in this cabin is Freddie Bradshaw, played with rough charm by Kevin Kimsey. Bradshaw, the ex-husband of television star Marta Dunhill, may be deprived of marital pleasures, but he didn't come out too badly in the divorce. He got the Vermont cabin, another home and alimony.

Dunhill, portrayed with glittering celebrity style by RaDawn Smythe, arrives from her California digs to visit him in answer to his urgent letter. But he denies sending a letter. Could someone be setting her up to be murdered at the site of two earlier deaths? The questions (and dark humor) build as the two bicker and snarl about their aborted baby and marriage.

The bizarre atmosphere intensifies with each incident, from the arrival of the ski-masked figure in camouflage clothing carrying an axe, to the grizzly mutilation of a victim and startling confessions.

The latest murder brings in Sheriff Jane Morton, briskly played by Anne Hamilton as a down-home type gal with a subtle but sharp edge. Kevin Labrum almost steals the show as her deputy Wilton Dekes, a slow-witted character who can't even set up the crime scene tapes without injuring himself. Labrum is hilarious, from his appearance and speech patterns to his habit of confessing to crimes if he fits the perpetrator's profile.

Steve Martin is appropriately slimy in his role of suitor and accomplice, and gives new depth to the term "pompous outrage." A great portion of the play, as in many murder mysteries, is devoted to intricate details, word games and confrontations. The two women, Hamilton as sheriff and Smythe as the self-centered, cool and conniving actress, give strong, clever performances and carry the story while all characters indulge in a strange cat-and-mouse-type game.

The main problem with the show is the pacing, as some of the scenes tend to drag and seem repetitious. And the ending of the play and the punishment of the culprits is the most bizarre aspect of the entire show. I know, I know. It's a comedy and not realistic. But even so, many in the stunned audience must wonder, "Mr. Holmes, what were you thinking?"

Thumbs by Rupert Holmes

Directed by Don Walker

At Stage Coach Theatre, in Hillcrest Plaza at Orchard and Overland, Boise

7:30 p.m. on Thursdays; 8:15 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through April 30

Tickets $12 Fridays and Saturdays; $10 Thursdays & Sunday, April 24

For reservations call 342-2000