Review of ‘Death by Chocolate’ - bitter or sweet?

By Matthew Clark, Staff Writer

The Newman University Fine Arts Department recently performed a dinner-theatre style show titled “Death by Chocolate,” written by Paul Freed. This is a review of the Thursday showing, performed Oct. 11, which included an understudy substitution for Lady Riverdale.

The story itself is a rather standard murder mystery archetype, yet, it certainly possesses charms and twists that amuse and surprise. Its humor is a blend of word play, irony, excessive contrasts, physical comedy, and raunchy statements, effectively drawing a laugh from anyone with a soul.

Other elements such as action, drama, and even touches of romance are included quite comfortably through pieces of dialogue and character actions.

While the story progresses somewhat predictably at first, the especially erratic and relentless turns of Act II could make even the most refined literary scholars scratch their heads.

This induces a pleasant feeling of realization, which is summed up in a statement from Kegan Clark, the man I was seated next to:

“I did not see that coming; in hindsight, it makes sense.”

Yet, this only addresses the skill of Freed.

Acting is such a tricky, temperamental thing. In spite of this, the cast seemed professional to say the least.

The only acting-based issues seen during this particular showing include unintentional dialogue cross, occasional blocking issues, minor projection problems, and undersold character actions.

While this seems like a great deal of criticism, I strained to notice them, as they were sparse and unhindering to the experience. Furthermore, it is highly likely that they were resolved by the final performance.

What is truly noteworthy and remarkable, however, is how well the performers upheld the suspension of disbelief for the audience and even themselves.

At times, it was as if reality itself hid behind the curtain, allowing the Meadowbrook Health Resort to take the spotlight as a living organism, all because the cast and crew worked brilliantly together.

Supplementally, the costumes well portrayed the time and catalyzed the personalities of the characters quite flawlessly.

The set was magnificent, using materials and palettes that drew audience members and performers alike into the room of a mansion.

Specific lighting made this illusion even more believable, with both cool and warm colors that were used quite fittingly for each scene.

Sounds and effects also supported the performers and play as a whole, with only miniscule errors.

Audio features like the music used to romanticize character actions and dialogue genuinely delighted the audience. Though, Kevin MacLeod’s “Sneaky Snitch” did not appear to match what was happening during the house searching scene.

Finally, referring once more to the audience, the crowd interactions never failed to both amuse and amaze.

I saw nothing but smiles and heard nothing but chortling and creative improvisation when performers ventured into the audience.

An audience is always the show’s true critic, and there were no P.T. Barnum bashers in the crowd. The roar of laughter echoed throughout De Mattias.

Overall, Newman University’s showing of “Death by Chocolate” was delightfully presented and sweetened to the audience’s taste (pun profoundly intended). It was a show performed by a most skillful cast and crew, and they deserve thundering applause and roses for their time and effort.

Suffice it to say, I look forward to seeing Newman’s next featured performance.

PHOTO: THE PERFORMANCE OF ‘DEATH BY CHOCOLATE’  deserves “thundering applause and roses” in the eyes of Matthew Clark. Courtesy photo, Clayton Norris