'Til death do us part


— There's nothing like murder to spark some creative juices.

At least that's how the characters in the Steamboat Community Players' production of "Marriage is Murder" feel.

The play follows the creative processes of two suspense novelists who act out murdering each other to inspire their books.

But what is a director to do when the best actors auditioning for the husband-and-wife murder-mystery duo are two women?

Cast them both, of course. Such is life in small-town community theater.

It was the decision Director Nina Rogers made after auditions.

Aly Matthews, who has acted in nearly everything that has been put on a stage in the past few years, and newcomer to the local theater Laurie Weaver were clearly the best candidates for this particular play.

"Aly and Laurie each had this incredible energy," Rogers said.

Matthews was a shoe-in for the role of Polly Butler, a recently divorced screenplay writer and former author of pulp thriller books.

However, there was no place to cast Weaver. The second role in the two-person play was Paul Butler, Polly's slob ex-husband and writing collaborator who drinks too much.

After consulting with colleagues, Rogers decided to cast Weaver as the ex-husband, but changed Paul to Paula, making her an ex-wife.

The result is a gender-bending twist on playwright Nick Hall's look at a divorced couple re-examining their relationship through the creative process of writing a book.

It's not uncommon to change the sex of characters. In "Mouse Trap" and "Search for Signs of Intelligent Life," Rogers did a little gender-bending most of it unnoticed.

This is the first time it has had such an impact on the story.

"This is different. This is a gay play now," Rogers said.

That initially gave her some second thoughts. If Rogers wanted to do a play about a same-sex marriage, she would have found a script to do so. But the dynamic between Weaver and Matthews was just too much to be ignored.

One initial stumbling block was that Weaver's character is such a stereotypical male, complete with a young girlfriend and drinking buddies. As it turns out, that just makes Paula that much more unique, and real.

"It does make the character a lot more interesting," Rogers said.

As for Weaver, besides embracing some of the obviously male characteristics, she said fulfilling this role really wasn't too difficult.

"It's amazing to me how similar I am to this character," she said, noting she sees some of Paula's messy housekeeping in herself on occasion.

Matthews admitted playing a character with a female love interest is one of the more challenging roles she's stepped into. But she also recognizes the dynamic between her and Weaver presented a unique situation.

"It's just fabulous. The energy just builds," she said.

"Marriage is Murder" is a comedy about Paula and Polly Butler, once the authors of the semi-famous murder suspense books about crime-solver Ms. Charlie. For creative inspiration, the Butlers act out the murders portrayed in the books in their New York City apartment.

The couple had divorced more than a year earlier, when Polly left to pursue a screenwriting career in California.

Now she's back to talk her ex-wife, Paula, into writing another Ms. Charlie book for an interested publisher willing to pay big bucks.

Paula reluctantly agrees to collaborate, and the women start working on the book by acting out murder ideas. This leads the ladies into delving into their raucous marriage and unresolved feelings toward each other.

Hanging over the Butlers' heads is a sobering, if not tempting, fact. If one of the women were to die, the other would have the exclusive rights to Ms. Charlie.

The story is less about a murder mystery and more about how a couple can fall out of love and what happens afterward, which is why the gender-bending has such an interesting appeal on the story.

"Marriage is Murder" opens today at the Seventh Street Playhouse. It runs on Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 31. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at All That Jazz and at the door.


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