Jack Sharkey is one of James Thaggard's favorite playwrights. If you don't know who Jack Sharkey is, Thaggard says, don't feel bad.
"Jack Sharkey is one the funniest, most prolific and totally unknown playwrights," Thaggard said.
Thaggard is directing one of Sharkey's many, many plays -- he published 86, according to one source -- for Island Players.
"The Murder Room" opens today and runs until the end of the month.
"It's been described as 'Agatha Christie meets the Marx Brothers,'" Thaggard said. "But I think it's more like Agatha Christie meets Abbott and Costello."
Sharkey wrote at a furious pace. His first play, "Here Lies Jeremy Troy," came out in 1965, and Sharkey died in 1992. That means he published his 80-something plays at the rate of about three a year. (Some sources put the number of his plays at closer to 100, or almost four a year.)
"When he died, Samuel French, the publisher, didn't know how many plays he had written because he used so many pen names," Thaggard said.
He did that, Thaggard said, because a lot of theaters don't want to stage more than one play by any single playwright in any one season. So they'd shy away from a second Jack Sharkey show, but they could fill a whole season with plays by Rick Abbott, Mike Johnson,
Monk Ferris, Mark Chandler and any other aliases Sharkey might have used.
"Here Lies Jeremy Troy" came within days making it to a Broadway stage on two different occasions. Sharkey got frustrated and decided to target community theaters for the rest of his plays.
So he wrote plays that were fast-paced, exceedingly entertaining, with large casts of more women than men and simple sets, with nothing that would be likely to offend anyone in the audience. Community theaters, and their audiences, have loved them ever since.
A lot of his plays are comedy-mysteries, such as "The Murder Room."
The plot has to do with a young woman who doesn't mind committing a murder or two, or two dozen, in order to get her hands on an inheritance. The plot has twists and turns, red herrings and dead ends, along with the requisite British manor with trapdoors and hidden rooms.
One thing that makes Sharkey's plays so much fun for the director and the cast, Thaggard said, is that he includes lines in the stage directions that are intended to make the performers laugh, even though the audience will never know.
In "The Murder Room," a character has to enter carrying a dead cat. Sharkey describes the cat as having bulging eyes, with his claws wrapped around his neck.
"For heaven's sake, use a stuffed cat here," Sharkey writes in the stage directions. "Realism could be ruinous."
Details: May 21-31, 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.