This Week in Theater
Anna Nicholas and her zany “Whodunit”
By Rose Desena
The press release for Anna Nicholas’ new play ““Villa Thrilla”” caught my eye. Gangsters, murder and a holiday dinner party is my kind of talk. Like me, Anna likes good old fashioned mysteries. I said, “self this sounds like fun, we got to see this.”
Intrigued by both the story and playwright, I decided to have a little talk with Anna.
Rose: Hi, Anna.
Anna: Hi there Rose.
Rose: There are many things about “Villa Thrilla” that interest me. First, I am a NY Italian girl with a fondness for gangsters, and I love murder mysteries — particularly ones in old mansions. Tell me how it came about?
Anna: Like you, I’m from the East coast, though not Italian. I do, however, love gangster stories and mysteries. Villa Thrilla—the show, not the house—was a thought experiment originally. Not quite Schrodinger’s cat but the question was: Could a playwright merge a murder mystery (of the sort Agatha Christie used to write) with a farce and make the whole thing a play-within-a-play?
Rose: From the press release, it sounds like it’s a play-within-a-play. Is that true?
Anna: Well yes, that’s the goal. However, some people don’t get that at first. There are lots of clues that suggest that’s what it is but if you tune out for too long, you might just think the actors are talking funny. It’s also a farce with many of the classic elements of farce—mistaken identity, door jokes and wordplay.
Rose: Holidays at my house sometimes turned out to be a mystery, although we never had a murder. There was always some drama that would dampen the mood. One time my very fat uncle dressed up as Santa and when he went to pick up the big bag of gifts, he had a heart attack. Really! Right there. Thankfully he didn’t die, but it did ruin the gift exchange. I was a little miffed. Were holidays on your mind when you wrote “Villa Thrilla”?
Anna: Yes, insofar as I’ve been an actor alone at the holidays with only my theatre family to celebrate with. The characters in Villa Thrilla share this bond. They’re performing together at the holidays and making the best of it.
Rose: You have a young Goth girl in the play. What’s that about? As a matter of fact, you have some really fun characters. Want to talk about them a bit?
Anna: The characters were chosen as archetypes. As in many farces, one meets “the ingénue” or “the butler” or “the distinguished gentleman” etc. but because VT is a play within a play, it was fun to play the actors who were playing these archetypes. In some cases they’re playing against type. This was deliberate because one of my peeves in life is when people assume that what you see is what you get with other people. But there are always layers if one takes the time to peel ‘em back. I can’t say much more without giving things away.
Rose: Is there anything else you would like to add to wet the appetite of my readers?
Anna: VT was written to provide amusement to the audience and fun for the cast. Set designer Madison Rhoades and her crew have built a very fun playpen for the actors to play in, assisted by the wonderful sound and lighting design provided by Peter Bayne and Brandon Baruch. Gary Lee Reed has done an awesome job getting our 10 actors to make sense of the script and move around the set with confidence.
Rose: I have just one more question. Do you know anyone in witness protection? I think my neighbor might be in the program. His name is John Smith, and he never gets any mail. Really weird, right? Maybe we could investigate him together sometime. That would be exciting.
Anna: Give me his address. I know people…
Rose: Well thanks Anna, I am looking forward seeing this. Break a leg!
So, readers – take a break before you start that holiday shopping and check this out. “Villa Thrilla” sounds very entertaining.
Anna: Thank you, Rose and readers.
Details; “Villa Thrilla” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., through Nov. 23. All tickets are $32. Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. On-site parking is free. For reservations and information, call 800-838-3006 or go to www.VillaThrilla.com