In the “About the Show” section for Delirium Tremens on the Bump in the Night Entertainment website, the production company — presumably via playwright Rhett Jonke — admits that the classic murder mystery format is, by its very definition, contrived, and challenges the rest of us “judgmental bunch of assholes” to try to write an original play of our own. Bump in the Night’s in-your-face attitude comes through elsewhere on its website, in the program for the show and, as one might expect, in the show itself.
In fact, it amuses me to no end that some of the material on their website (particularly the description of Penumbra in the Garden of Twilight’s Cucumbers, the fictional play they’d intended to produce before settling on Delirium Tremens) and in the program so far exceeds in cleverness and craft the dialogue in Delirium Tremens itself. Bump in the Night obviously includes some individuals with salty tongues and sharp wits. I think all they’re missing is a measure of focus, and they could turn their caustic comedic tendencies into some truly interesting theater.
This is not to say that Delirium Tremens is a failure or even represents a serious misstep. It’s a reasonably amusing play with occasional moments that impress, but in the final analysis it comes off as just a tad too amateurish to be considered first-rate. If playwright and director Jonke gave the script another polish with an eye toward trading in some of the more random, shocking-just-to-be-shocking profanity in favor of snappier, better-timed zingers, and if a few of the cast members put a little more effort into enunciation and clear projection of their lines, Delirium Tremens might well live up to the bravado in its accompanying literature.
On the requisite dark and stormy night in upstate New York in the 1930s, a colorful group of haves and have-nots find themselves faced with a murderer (or, perhaps, murderers) in their midst. The patriarch of the bunch, Lord Dunraven (Alfred Ferraris), is an elderly business magnate of dubious ethics and even dubious-er health. Always with a cocktail close at hand, his wife, Evelyn (Jennifer Bass), waits somewhat less than patiently for Dunraven to shuffle off this mortal coil so that she may enjoy his riches without having to endure him. Dunraven’s nurse, the bubbly, bouncy and chronically befuddled Barbie Barbeaux (Brittany Lacour), attends to his physical needs with an almost legendary lack of medical knowledge.
When not ogling Nurse Barbeaux, Reverend Church (Alastair Norcross) attempts to minister to Dunraven’s more spiritual concerns. Dunraven’s ne’er-do-well son, Billy (Devin Jamroz) and his sex- and booze-addled wife, Norma Jean (Kari White), drop in to check on the old man and his fortune. Dunraven’s ancient aunt, Helga von Clapp (Erin Presley Froemke), is visiting from the Fatherland, where, among her other pursuits — Jew hating, Gypsy baiting — she serves as advisor to an up-and-coming young politician, Adolf Hitler. The maid, Vernita Brown (Lisa Young), serves the rest and suffers far from silently in doing so.
Two experiences I had during intermission go a long way toward illustrating this play’s strengths and weaknesses. First, a gentleman in the lobby asked me if I thought the first act had been overly long. I replied that, objectively, it didn’t seem much longer than most first acts. I then noted that Jonke had technically crammed in two acts pre-intermission, and that may have been why the first “act” seemed longer than usual.
Back in the theater, I overheard a few audience members hypothesizing on why the play was not receiving a warmer response from the crowd. These commentators felt that Delirium Tremens was as funny as funny could be and speculated that Boulderites were either too intellectually snobby, too politically correct or just too boring to appreciate the nuances of repeated dick and fart jokes and the word “motherfucker” yelled by and at most every character.
Though Boulderites certainly have their faults, trust me, we laugh as loud as anyone at all types of humor, and some of us treat creative profanity with the same reverence that others reserve for their deity of choice. In the case of Delirium Tremens, both the comedy on display and the acting used to convey it are simply subpar.
Delirium Tremens plays through May 19 at the Dairy Center for the Arts. Tickets are $15-$25. For tickets or information, call 303-444-7328 or visit www.thedairy.org.