Clockwise from left: Elizabeth Loos, J.R. Stuart, Tina Jo Wallace, Chris Bryant, Annette Hill McCulloch, Bill Hanna, Janet Essenpries. Photo: DDP

Web Of Murder

By Jonathan Troy
Directed by Jim Hesselman

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

The first thing you’ll notice when you enter the auditorium at Derby Dinner for their latest production is the absolutely stunning set. Designer Ron Riall has simply outdone himself this time, creating an absolutely gorgeous interior of a gothic Victorian mansion, with dark crushed-velvet walls that surround the entire auditorium, complete with secret panels and ancient looking family portraits. It completely whets the appetite for the gloomy tale about to unfold.

For their latest production, the Playhouse presents the gothic whodunit Web Of Murder. Jonathan Troy’s script is a fun little tale of murder and suspense, with a sense of humor that never crosses the line into farce.

A wealthy family is invited to the mansion by their matriarch, Minerva Osterman (Rita Thomas), an unpleasant and mean-spirited woman confined to a wheelchair. She practically holds her spineless daughter Stephanie (Janet Essenpreis) and maid Nora (Tina Jo Wallace) prisoner, as they daren’t disobey lest they be disinherited. The rest of the family can’t turn down the invitation for fear of the same consequences.

When they arrive, they are informed that she knows she will be murdered over the course of the weekend and that several of them will die as well. What follows is a highly enjoyable caper, full of plot twists and turns, several of which I didn’t see coming. It all leads up to a satisfying resolution, in a tale Agatha Christie would have been proud of.

Thomas dominates the production as the strong-willed Minerva, giving unexpected layers to a character that could easily have come off as just a nasty old lady. She’s supported by a strong cast, all of whom give great performances as well, including J.R. Stuart as her hypnotist physician and Bill Hanna as the ex-con love interest of one of her family members.

Andrew Duff’s lighting design is also worth mentioning, as it truly adds to the gloomy atmosphere while highlighting the brilliance of Riall’s set.

I have only one little nitpick of a complaint, and that is that there were a couple of plot threads that seemed unresolved; I don’t know if this is a flaw with Troy’s script, or (as frequently happens in live performances) if something was accidentally skipped by the performers. Regardless, the show is compelling and fun to watch. And with dinner included, this is the perfect date night for anyone with a taste for a classic murder mystery!

Featuring Brian Bowman, Chris Bryant, Janet Essenpreis, Bill Hanna, Elizabeth Loos, Annette Hill McCulloch, J.R. Stuart, Rita Thomas, and Tina Jo Wallace.

Web Of Murder 

October 3 – November 11, 2018

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN  47129


Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.