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ZCT: Well glory be! Death and Taxes might remind you of the small town you live in

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By JANET HANSEN/for The Herald  —  Picture yourself in a Mayberry RFD whodunit mirroring the comical small-town politics you’d easily find in any rural community. Picture yourself as a citizen in the audience of a town hall meeting called a coroner’s jury – “an illegal one,” loudly and sarcastically proclaimed by the local newspaper editor.

The meeting was called by Mayor Kathleen Lyles [Catrina Davis] to determine cause for the sudden death of a certain “Mr. Polk” who died on Carl [Ross Spencer] and Mattie [Carina Schorer] Johansen’s living room sofa.

We recognize Mayor Lyles in the 21st century as a “pearl grabbing Karen,” the blonde sophisticate, fond of her airs and telling people to shut up!

Well, bless her heart.

Introducing the characters…or suspects

Editor of The Hunter Herald, Eddie King [Tony Schlauch] is a blowhard braggart in a mismatched plaid suit and tie who immediately begins slinging venomous slurs at the mayor and everyone else in the meeting except Lydia Kleft [Rachelle Castleman], a sweet young thang, and the city’s secretary. Oh. She’s precious, just wait and see.

City councilors include King, Carl Johansen, and Cora Sedgewick [MaryLee Sayre]. The local physician, Dr. Efrem Bishop [David Erickson] and town sheriff, Wesley Thorne [Travis Carlson] are also included in the nefarious gathering – all having had contact with the deceased just hours prior to his death.

cause of death?

The original cause of death behind the sudden demise of “Mr. Polk” was heart attack, proclaimed by the astute Dr. Bishop who appears complete in a suit, green bow tie, and red socks.  Someone on the jury brought to his attention the question of natural causes. The deceased was a young man.

Carl Johansen, curmudgeon that he is, suggested unnatural causes.

“What could an unnatural cause be?” came a logical but sardonic reply.

Carl quips, “Maybe a vampire bit him.”

Enter a huffy Mattie Johansen, Carl’s wife, who’d been honking their truck horn waiting for Carl to get out of the meeting. Mattie is a little rough around the edge’s small-town gal who doesn’t mince words or attitudes. She fits perfectly into this rough and tumble cast of characters.

Death and… comedy

Mattie is just the opposite of sweet Cora, a real southern belle who contributes long explanations of her involvement in this affair. Cora is so sweet you just know she’s innocent of any wrongdoing, but she has this twinkling wink that says, “I’m in the eye of this storm. We’re fixin’ to have so much fun talking about this rollercoaster ride.”

A G-Man under cover?

At this juncture, we discover “Mr. Polk” is an alias for the deceased whose real name is Michael Thomas Benedict, who was allegedly an IRS agent. An IRS agent? Who called an IRS agent?

Between endless jabs at each other, the council and other members of the coroner’s jury understand from the mayor an autopsy has been completed.

What?

The net result:  Comical fury from those who’d rather not be in this time-consuming meeting and demand to know why they are there. If the results are known from an autopsy, why is a coroner’s jury necessary in the first place?

And just what were the medical examiner’s findings?

Timidly, Mayor Lyles announces, “Poisoning.”

Finger pointing, accusations and lots of laughs ensue

From this moment, Death and Taxes goes into a frivolous tailspin of finger pointing, alibies, excruciating timelines, lurid accusations, and recreating the death scene in the Johansen’s living room. Carl abruptly points out if this was truly their living room Mattie would have a knitting basket right here!

Enter Miss Evelyn Martindale [Dody Spencer] who apparently designs sets and “can she please produce a knitting basket or something that represents one?” Miss Martindale returns with a snake charmer’s basket delivered with a long list of her immense experience in curation.

Sheriff Wesley Thorne made his presence known throughout the proceedings as a proud man of the law. You could tell. He repeatedly polished his badge throughout the coroner’s meeting. His effect as a lawman is a little like an understated Barney Fife and it’s fitting for a fictional whodunit in what we believe is a small southern town.

Shortly after and during the sandstorm of accusations Sheriff Thorne puts Carl under arrest.

More rough and tumble incriminating claims, mudslinging, and unwaveringly inappropriate behavior ensues until Miss Martindale returns with a pad and pen as she explains she has been listening from the back room recording details shored up by her vast experience in murder mysteries.

With measured, methodical assuredness Miss Martindale explains that to solve a murder, one must determine method, motive, and opportunity.

And the sleuthing begins…

Then just like that, the dialogue goes into reverse osmosis to unravel details no one has yet nailed down. The reverse tailspin uncovers certain things with even more absurd questions, all the while the coroner’s jury continues their adolescent bickering.

The playwright, Pat Cook, included myriad details, questions, and conclusions a small-town council and a sleuthing set designer might sniff out.

They gave it their best shot, but conclusive? Not so much.

In the end, a good reviewer would never give away the ending to a whodunit.

Let’s just say the outcome was similar to lyrics of the 1966 hit single,”I Fought the Law.”  We all know the law won.

Well, glory be!

 

Death and Taxes

Written by Pat Cook

Directed by Becky Chamberlin

Produced by Jacqui Lamont

Janet Hansen retired from the music industry as a senior marketing exec and publicist in 2017. Her work comprised interfacing with national media in campaigns that include credits in three GRAMMY awards, and two of history’s most popular songs. She returned to her home in Oakridge in 2019 as a semi-retired freelance writer and reviewer.

 

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