SPRINGVILLE — The city of Springville bills itself as “Art City.” With its locally respected art museum, annual world folkfest, and cadre of amateur theaters, the citizens of Springville rightfully take pride in the wide variety and accessibility of the arts in their town. So I was pleased to be assigned by UTBA to attend The Assassin’s New Friend at the new Little Brown Theatre on Main Street of “Art City.” When I arrived at the intimate 56-seat venue, I was greeted warmly by the theater volunteers and eagerly awaited the regional premiere of the show.
The Assassin’s New Friend is the story of freelance true crime writer Brian Hollander, who is approached by a mysterious stranger named Kendrick with an interesting proposal. Kendrick tells Brian that he intends to kill Brian’s new next door neighbor, high power defense attorney Douglas Brendan. Kendrick tells Brian about this plan in advance because he wants Brian to develop the murder into a book and will give the crime writer a share in a portion of the profits. After some moral debating, Brian agrees to interview Kendrick and Douglas (who does not know that he is a marked murder victim). When the murder occurs, Brian discovers that he is being framed for the killing and must exonerate himself.
The story is one of murder and intrigue with lots of twists and turns. Director Bill Brown keeps the intrigue tight through most of the show by keeping the emphasis on Brian and his emotional states, which swing from calm tranquility to total panic. I also appreciated how Brown instructed his actors to keep their performances somewhat subdued, which matched the mood and size of the venue. Brown also effectively led the audience through the plot twists in the second act, which could have introduced a lot of confusion to the audience.
Among the cast members, I was most impressed by the performance of Adam Cannon as Kendrick. Cannon’s character is the most difficult to pin down because the playwright intentionally hides Kendrick’s true nature in order to increase the suspense. Cannon’s performance was interesting because every iteration of his character was consistent with the performance that Cannon had given to that point in the play, yet still introduced new aspects of the character. Sheldon Boone played Dana Hollander, Brian’s wife. At first, I had trouble believing that the two were married. But as the show progressed, I saw the emotional bonds between the two strengthen. I especially appreciated the moment between husband and wife that occurred after Brian told Dana about the murder. The way that Brian (played by Jamie Gritton) told a dark secret to his wife and yet still had her unconditional love was quite touching. Gritton’s performance in the lead role was pleasing, although I felt he was a little too muted. I would have liked slightly stronger reactions to Kendrick’s revelations during the first act. However, I warmed up to Gritton’s performance as Brian comes to realize that he is being framed for the murder.
I have mixed feelings about the script, penned by John Kaasik. On the one hand, I believe the script is about twenty or thirty minutes too long, with the first act being especially wordy. The first act also has problems in that the story requires Brian—an intelligent adult who writes about real murder investigations—to act like he doesn’t know anything about murder so that the plot can progress. I also believe that some of the dialogue is awkward, especially for Kendrick (who has lines like “Spare us your segues and continue,” “An equally scintillating perception,” and “. . . your collusion seems dubious”). Finally, I think that the beginning of the second act would have been more suspenseful if the opening scene or two took place with the dead body on stage.
But overall, I commend the staff at the Little Brown Theatre for producing a regional premiere of a straight play. I will always compliment amateur theaters that take artistic risks in script selection or in productions. The Assassin’s New Friend may not be a perfect production, but if you’re looking for something besides the old workhorses of amateur theaters, then you should give the show a try.