“Might As Well Be Dead,” Park Square Theatre’s second adaptation featuring the familiar detective character Nero Wolfe, received a rapturous reception Friday evening from a house packed with fans of author Rex Stout.
For the rest of us, the mix of drawing-room mystery and hard-boiled whodunit serves as jolly distraction. There’s nothing Earth-shattering here: just a solid production serving an intriguing story.
Unlike other mystery duos — Holmes and Watson, for example — both supersleuth Wolfe and gumshoe Archie Goodwin play vital roles in solving the mystery. While Wolfe hangs out at his stylish brownstone, tending to his orchids and piecing together the clues, it is up to Goodwin to hit the streets of New York to dig and dig and find those clues.
It starts, as do so many detective stories, with a lady at the door. In this case, it is the aging Mrs. Herrold, desperate to reconnect with a son she tossed out of the house 11 years earlier. Wolfe and Goodwin take the case, but quickly get ensnared by something much larger. The son has just been convicted of murder, and it seems that someone else is guilty.
The deeper Wolfe and Goodwin go, the more tangled the story gets. There’s a bevy of suspects, from a pair of high-society couples to the gruff head of a local union. But as they try to get closer to the truth, those with vital knowledge keep ending up dead.
It’s pretty standard fare, but still absorbing if you don’t know who actually did it. Director Peter Moore and playwright Joseph Goodrich achieve a snappy pace while never losing the audience along the way. The clues are pretty clear for us — even though few possess Wolfe’s powers of concentration.
Along with having the correct physical attributes for the role, E.J. Subkoviak exudes an appropriate chilly air as Wolfe. Yet while Subkoviak makes it clear that this character does not suffer fools, there is enough of a twinkle in his eyes to help us connect to the detective.
Then we get Derek Dirlam as the hard-boiled Archie Goodwin. He not only makes an engaging narrator, but provides a bit of real humanity, especially when the murders start to hit a bit too close to home.
The rest of the cast is solid throughout, even though they are a lot closer to stereotypes: gruff detective, ditsy high-society lady, TV producer, Greenwich Village artist type.
Apart from a couple of missteps (Wolfe’s defining orchid obsession is missing — come on, give us more than one little plant?), “Might as Well be Dead” is a pleasant summertime escape to a world that never existed: one where the truth is clear and justice is served.
Ed Huyck is a Twin Cities theater critic.