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The Cary Players’ Rendition of Death by Design Falls Short as Both a Comedy and a Mystery

The Cary Players’ community-theater production of Rob Urbinati’s 2013 play, Death by Design: A Comedy with Murder, directed by Mia Peters, is a supposed mashup of the comedy of Noël Coward (1899-1973) and the mystery of Agatha Christie (1890-1976), two legends of the British stage. Set in 1932, the play uses a single set: a living room of the Bennetts’ manor house.

Edward Bennett (played by Michael Parker) is a somewhat successful playwright, and his wife Sorel (Noelle Barnard Azarelo) is an actress of some note. Their talents are dwarfed by both their massive egos and the extremes of their love/hate relationship.

This should be a nice play for a small theater company, because it has eight juicy roles, allowing for comedy through the chaos of a series of unwanted guests representing a spectrum of extreme personalities. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue seems forced; and it dulls the sharpness of the humor.

I’m not sure if this was by design, but many of the characters are emoting so heavily and consistently that there is nowhere for the plot to go. One exception was Michael Parker as Edward Bennett. He was light and deliciously wry and had a Nick Charles vibe. It didn’t contrast well with Noelle Barnard Azarelo’s performance as Edward Bennett’s his overly dramatic wife Sorel. Azarelo gave us just the hate part of Bennetts’ relationship. For a comedy of manners, in this case, less would be more.

Jason Christ as Jack, the chauffeur, was solid. I wonder if the rest of the cast came on too strong by overly enunciating their British accents. I think this script could work, because I could discern a fair amount of Noël Coward-like banter, but I saw little of Agatha Christie as the mystery portion of this show was silly and muddled.

Katie Moorehead’s set design was spot on; however, there were frequent times where the lights would dim onstage. Frankly, I could not tell if this was by design, to indicate a particular mood, or some odd power fluctuation.

Last night, there was a pretty good crowd, but the audience appeared to be disengaged. There were some titters, but no one was rolling in the aisles.

The actors’ efforts were hamstrung by the script, which has some parallels to the work of Noël Coward; but the mystery portion was silly and muddled. There were some titters in the audience, but no one was rolling in the aisles.

Tickets for the Cary Players’ production of Death by Design are inexpensive, but I can’t recommend it. The show runs through Sunday, Feb. 9th; and there are plenty of good seats available.

The Cary Players will stage Rob Urbinati’s Death by Design Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 and 7-9 at the Cary Arts Center

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 31st Cary, NC Cary Citizen preview by Ashley Kairis: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 2nd Triangle Review review by Melanie Simmons, click,

The Cary Players present DEATH BY DESIGN: A COMEDY WITH MURDER at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 and 8, and 3 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary, North Carolina 27511.

TICKETS: $20 in advance and $22 at the door ($18 in advance and $20 at the door students and seniors), except $17 per person for groups of 8 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 800-514-3849 or

GROUP RATES (8+ tickets): Purchase in person at the Cary Downtown Theatre Box Office, 122 E. Chatham St. Cary, NC 27511, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

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NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9th, performance.


Robert O’Connell is new to the Triangle, but not to the stage. As a playwright, he has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has an MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at and two humor anthologies from his blog, He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews