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Review: Evolution Presents Area Premiere of The Vultures

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Review: Evolution Presents Area Premiere of The VulturesAll photos by Jerri Shafer.
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Evolution kicks off their 2019 season with a handsome mounting of the area premiere of Mark Ridge’s riff on classic drawing room murder mysteries, The Vultures, directed by David S. Harewood.

The Vultures unfurls at the mansion of a deceased publishing magnate 20 years after his death. Mr. West’s hatred of all living prospects for next-of-kin led to the stipulation that all heirs assemble two decades hence. The surviving six are a mixed bag of those who knew “the old man” and those who never laid eyes on him or the manor.

The only resident of the mansion all these years is West’s caretaker Talbot (billed as Anonymous Actor) and she works with the executor Mr. Crosby (Tom Holliday) to orchestrate this hodgepodge of types and competing motivations: underwear model Harrison Blythe (Leland Leger); bitter victim of the vicissitudes of life Mary Roberts (Sonda Staley); country-based hairdresser Ashley Hopwood (Carolyn Demanelis); assured real estate broker Charley Willard (William Darby IV); nerdy and gregarious accountant Paul Jones (Davion T. Brown); and Jones’ long ago paramour Hunter West (Scott Risner).

The principal problem with The Vultures is Ridge doesn’t put enough of a personal spin on the antiquated tropes (the notes cite inspiration from public domain works by John Willard, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Avery Hopwood). There’s far too much repetition — especially early — and not enough fun. It’s admirable the characters are quick to cotton to what’s going on, unless they don’t, but the play itself still spends too much time belaboring every detail.

The actors are left to provide that playful spark and, to a person, they rise to the challenge, with delicious work from Darby and Leger, in particular, I would have liked to see unleashed on developed characters, but it only goes so far in these two hours (with a 15 minute intermission). Ridge keeps the characters sketchy but doesn’t load us up with the hairpin turns and breathless reveals dangled before the audience.

The inconsistent character writing breaks down for the middle of the second act. The nadir comes with Mary Roberts delivering a speech that turns her from garden-variety-unlikable into despicable-bumper-sticker and it’s a testament to Sonda Staley’s excellent acting that those words appear as real and grounded as they do.

There’s real sweetness in the romance plot between West and Jones, and Brown and Risner have the chemistry to carry it off, but they’re also saddled with saccharine lines in that final act even the mostly-caricatures of the first would have snickered through.

However, the second act also features sparks of brilliant life hinting at the absurdist deconstruction of another road taken, helped by the infusion of antic energy of David Johnson’s Dr. Avery and Mike Gwydion Ream’s Rinehart. Harewood’s direction greatly uses the physicality of the actors and Katherine Wexler’s sumptuous set, but most of the joy in The Vultures is reserved for superfans of the source material it references.

The Vultures runs through June 1 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more info, please visit tickets.vendini.com.

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