Local playwright delves into mystery for new fall show

By Page H. Gifford, Correspondent

Langden Mason has always been known for his comic wit but his new play, to be unveiled onstage at Carysbook in November, will feature a murder mystery farce.

“I have always wanted to write a murder mystery farce, so about 10 years ago I began writing Present Company Excluded,” he said. After penning the first 20 pages he said he developed a writer’s block that stopped him in his tracks. He then created two other comedies, Pinching Petunias and You’ve Gotta Be Kidding, both performed on the Carysbrook stage.

Last year, the Fluvanna County Arts Council asked if Mason could have something ready for their 2018-19 season, so he decided the best way to overcome his writer’s block was to be forced to have the comedy completed by mid-2018. Within six months he completed Acts II and III.

“My plays are always comedic, but Present Company Excluded is a bit of a departure from the homespun southern humor I explore in my Don’t Get Me Started column in the Rural Virginian or have expressed in previous stage productions,” he said. “This play delves into the humorous side of life, death, marriage, and divorce and pokes fun at Hollywood high society and their desperate attempt at keeping up appearances.”

The most difficult thing about this particular play was that it was a mystery, so there had to be clues, twists and turns, suspects with motives and maybe even a few surprises: a lot for a writer to keep up with. Mason discovered it wasn’t going to flow as it did in his past plays with comedic banter and farcical situations.

“This was my first attempt at stream of consciousness writing where you type Act One; Scene One, but have no idea where the story is going to take you. Probably not the best way to write a murder mystery, but certainly a fun way of writing a nonsensical one,” he said. “Not knowing how it would end definitely enabled me to bring in new characters in each act to muddy the waters and to keep the audience on their toes as the newly introduced characters seem to get more and more outrageous. I also enjoyed including several humorous, unexpected scare elements which are appropriate for a play set on Halloween night.”

Once he got past the dreaded writer’s block he enjoyed the journey with the characters he created.

“I had a great deal of fun writing Present Company Excluded because the characters are parodies from 1964 and 1984 Hollywood, Calif. I thoroughly enjoyed bringing the lingo and the culture of each era to life. It gives you a true barometer of how the values, beliefs, and the American language so radically changed over a mere 20 years.”

Mason gives a synopsis of the play, which begins in 1964, and presents a washed-up Shakespearean actor, his ex-wife, a faded silent movie queen, and her young lover, all living in the same exclusive Hollywood bungalow. Banter ensues as they prepare for a late October cocktail party where their fellow Hollywood types will be in attendance. The evening does not end well as one of them is a murderer and several of the characters meet their demise.

Flash forward to Halloween 1984, where tenacious real estate agent, Rachel McMillan, is trying to sell the bungalow to a valley girl and her dishonest, hustling husband, while she treads lightly over the subject of the deadly events of Oct. 31, 1964. The question Mason poses in his play is: Has death taken a holiday or is he still lurking just outside the door to finish what he started 20 years ago?

Mason is working with many familiar actors to the Carysbrook stage, including those who also work with the Persimmon Tree Players (PTP). Returning to the stage is Ken Smith, and newcomer Hayden Ardrey. Mason has not worked with Deanne Cook, Victoria Cook, and Dave Allred, who have been in a few previous PTP productions but said they are doing an amazing job bringing their characters to life. “We are quite blessed to have such great talent in our own backyard,” he said.

Mason had to also take a part when the cast ran short of actors. “I have taken a role in this production and though my memory is so short I can’t remember how long it is, I will do my best,” he said.

Present Company promises to be an uproarious evening of laughs,” he said. “It may even provide a scare or two as the insane storyline unfolds two decades apart.”

For more information visit www.carysbrook.org.

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