Death by Fiat

Play: Death by Fiat

Group: First Run Theatre

Venue: Hunter Theatre, DeSmet High School, 233 New Ballas Road

Dates: August 1, 2, 3

Tickets: From $8 to 12; contact 314-352-5114 or

Story: It’s 1946, and British chief inspector Ruthven, an MI5 operative during World War II, has been asked by his wartime boss Sir Trevor Richardson to hunt down and terminate a particularly nasty ex-Nazi now living in England. Ruthven reluctantly agrees, and then offers his ex-boss a bonus: He’ll kill another ne-er-do-well for good measure.

So, it’s off to the countryside estate of Sir Hugo Partridge for our intrepid sleuth, who is aided by the savvy local policeman, Sgt. Moore, as he investigates murder at the manor. Suspects include Sir Hugo’s widow, Lady Celia; his daughter (and Ruthven’s fiancé) Joyce Havilland; American businessman Jack Hanover; noted actress Danielle Truscott; her friend and aspiring playwright Tristan Craddick; the mysterious Czech stableman, Sedlak; and even the loyal maid, Mrs. Hoskins. Local police superintendent Palmer attempts to help Ruthven in his own bumbling way.

Highlights: Playwright Richard La Violette has written a charming and engaging drama that pays tribute to the whodunit style of Agatha Christie and other purveyors of the old, shot-in-the-dark mysteries that inevitably are set in some quaint English locale. His two-act work is given a credible production under the direction of Vanessa Roman, who benefits from a pair of nifty performances by James Enstall as the redoubtable Ruthven, who may not be what he seems, and Michael Brick, consistently delightful in his portrayal of the methodical and observant Moore, who captures the show’s best comic moments.

Other Info: Belinda Quimby does nicely as the alluring actress, while Nancy Crouse and Charles Heuvelman deliver a pair of fine performances as the dutiful maid and sinister foreigner, respectively. Jessica LaBozzetta and Tom Bell are OK as Sir Hugo’s stifled daughter and troublesome friend, and Joe Wegeschiede is Ruthven’s persistent old boss. Robert Beck, Jared Nenninger, Tom Kavanaugh and Judy E. Yordon complete the cast as Sir Hugo, Craddick, Superintendent Palmer and Lady Celia.

George Wagner’s set effectively handles the three separate settings for the script, neatly packaging two of them on opposite sides of the same structure while opening up the stage with Sir Hugo’s handsome study, where all but two of the nine scenes occur. Russ Bettlach contributes the nicely attuned period costumes, Erich Suellentrop provides lighting and Brad Slavik offers both sound design and the original music.

Pacing could be accelerated, and tighter performances by several of the players also would enhance proceedings, but Death by Fiat nonetheless is appealing entertainment, primarily thanks to Enstall and Brick.

Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.