Review: 'When the Reaper Calls' offers surprises, laughs, truth

ELIZABETH DODD ~ Professor Victor Pierce, left, played by Joe Reed of Cape Girardeau, checks to see if he is dead during a dress rehearsal of "When the Reaper Calls" last week.

In mythology, tricksters are beings or spirits who break the rules in order to help others perceive the truth. Philosophy professor Victor Pierce (Joe Reed) takes on that role in "When the Reaper Calls," the new production by the River City Players. The play offers truths and surprises along with laughs.

In this metaphysical whodunit, the question is whether anybody dunit.

"When the Reaper Calls" opens tonight and continues Saturday, Thursday and Sept. 19 and 20 at the River City Yacht Club above Port Cape restaurant.

Fellow philosophy professor Harlan Brandstater (Mike Craig) has zinc oxide on his nose and specializes in the Stoics, philosophers who believed in nonviolence. Harlan is into sparing the lives of trout. The professors are at once friends and rivals who have known each other since college. Victor claims all the life has gone out of Harlan since those days and proposes to trick him into committing murder — with blanks, of course. Of course.

Philosophy of love

The two men's everyday conversation is sprinkled with philosophical nuggets from Wittgenstein, Descartes and Kierkegaard. Harlan must struggle with definitions of love when asked by his wife if he loves her.

Reed and Craig cook up a fine love-hate stew between philosophical opposites. Each character is a truth-teller in his own right, but the nod may go to Victor. Women marry men expecting them to change and they never do, he tells Harlan. "We marry them expecting them never to change, and of course they do."

The philosophers aren't alone at the lodge. Victor's wife, Dora (Claudette Hency), is a medical student who left her tranquilizers at home and thinks Victor is cheating on her again. Hency plays hysterical well and draws some of the play's biggest laughs.

Harlan's wife Colleen (Lindsay Miller) creates masks based on mythological characters and leans toward herbal remedies. But she wouldn't mind reigniting the fire in her peace-loving husband.

Spotlighting talent

It's amazing that this is Miller's first turn for the River City Players. She is assured and natural on stage, perhaps in part because she is a producer for KBSI Fox 23 and WDKA My 49.

Officer McGuire (Melissa Wade) drops into the cottage from time to time to check on reports of gunshots. Wade does a nice job of reassuring the audience that the couples are the ones who are whacked out, not the rest of us.

Director Debbie Barnhouse has the ensemble ticking along smartly and knows where the laughs are. Audiences will find them throughout.

Tim Roth's perfect set is a homey lodge with fishing rods hanging on the walls and a horseshoe over the doorway. Barnhouse's husband, Randy, also has an important role in the production handling special effects. The assistant director is Holly Raines, the stage manager is Sara Corbin and the seamstress is Sheila Brown.