Some months back, Heiko Knipfelberg was looking for plays that he could suggest to the people at Island Players.
"I kind of went through the Samuel French catalogue looking for English murder mystery comedies," Knipfelberg said. "Island Players seems to like English murder mystery comedies. I think they do at least one a season."
He ordered Peter Gordon's "Murdered to Death" from Samuel French, a leading script publisher, and immediately fell in love with the play. It was kind of a combination of Agatha Christie novels and the "Pink Panther" films.
The people at Island Players apparently liked the script, too. Knipfelberg pitched it to them, and now he's directing "Murdered to Death." It will open the company's 67th season beginning Thursday.
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Not everyone was enthralled with the script as Knipfelberg, though. Robin Rhodes, a frequent Island Players actor, was lukewarm.
"I read through and thought, 'Well. It's OK,' " Rhodes said.
But after some rehearsals under Knipfelberg's direction, she saw what he had seen.
"It came to life with actors performing it," she said. "The way the author plays with words, it's hilarious. The audience is going to have to keep up."
Rhodes plays Miss Maple, and obvious send-up of Christie's Miss Marple. The plot follows the formula of the stereotypical Christie murder mystery.
"There are seven suspects and almost nobody has a good alibi," Knipfelberg said.
A detective named Inspector Pratt (played by Mark Shoemaker) leads the investigation.
"He's like Inspector Clouseau from the 'Pink Panther' movies except that he's English, not French," Knipfelberg said.
Directing a play such as "Murdered to Death" offered some challenges, he said. He had to find the right approach. He chose to be straightforward approach to let the playwright's word shine through.
"There are a couple of ways you can do this play," he said. "You could do it really silly. But I chose to go another way. The inspector has to be oblivious to the things he does. The mistake could be made to play this very stupid. You don't have to do that. The things he says are funny enough. Plus he has no short-term memory. He forgets things that he just said."
Details: Oct. 8-18, Island Players, 10009 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria. Show times: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $20. Information: 941-778-5755, theislandplayers.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.