Death, humor and ‘Gossip’

PAD presents George F. Walker comedy April 20-23

Sarah Azizo as Jane Nelson in George F. Walker's "Gossip." (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University.)

A rubber tire hangs from the ceiling. A glittering crowd sips champagne. “To minimal art,” a woman toasts, and promptly falls dead.

So begins “Gossip,” a satirical who-done-it by Canadian playwright George F. Walker.  Washington University’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present the sly, noir-inspired comedy April 20-23 in Edison Theatre.

“Funny is hard,” said William Whitaker, professor of the practice in drama, who directs the cast of nine. “There’s a flavor of absurdity to Walker’s humor. Most of his characters are editor-free. You can’t believe the things that come out of their mouths.

“But somehow the story still works,” Whitaker added. “If the choices they make are so over-the-top, then why does it feel so real?”

Josh Parrack as T.M. Power. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

One big truth

Written in 1977, “Gossip” explores public fascination with lurid, tabloid-style journalism, as well as the archetype of the crusading investigative reporter.

The plot centers on jaded newspaper columnist T.M. Power. When his editor, Baxter, assigns him to solve the murder of Jane “The Bitch” Nelson, doyenne of the local avant-garde, Power is incredulous.

“Walker was ahead of his time,” Whitaker said. “He pushes into exactly those areas — wealth, celebrity, glamour, scandal — that still obsess us today. In ‘Gossip,’ everyone has their own particular brand of crazy. Even characters who are inspired to do good, like Power, find themselves dragged into this dark societal underbelly.”

As the investigation proceeds, Power interviews a range of witnesses: the British director, his bickering actors, a pair of libertine lawyers. The case builds towards a comic, Agatha Christie-style comeuppance, at which all is seemingly revealed. Yet the line between truth, narcissism and obfuscation remains porous, as Power learns during a confrontation with Brigot Nelson, the victim’s cult-leading sister:

Power: You’re a poet.
Brigot: Close. I’m a prophet.

“Everyone is obsessed with that one big thing they believe to be true,” Whitaker concluded. “And when that happens, there’s no compromise, no relenting, no possibility of negotiation. We think, ‘My way is the only way.’

“That one big truth can make anything seem sensible — no matter how selfish or screwy it really is.”

Director Bill Whitaker (second from left) with the cast of “Gossip.” (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University.)

Cast & Crew

The cast is led by Josh Parrack as T.M. Power; Scott Greenberg as Baxter; and Carly Rosenbaum as the mysterious Margaret.

Jacque Randolph is Brigot Nelson, with Sarah Azizo as Jane. Danny Washelesky is Peter Bellum, the English director. Nina Punyamurthy and Dwayne McCowan are the actors Anna and Allan. Jake Wallack and Brandon Krisko are sibling lawyers Norman and Sam Lewis.

Sets and costumes are by Lindsay Eisold and Katey Becvar. Lighting and sound are by Dominick Ehling and Jon Zielke. Assistant director is Azizo. Stage manager is Ji Hyun Ahn, with assistance from Madison Lee.

Sean Savoie is production manager. Technical director is Mike Loui. Rob Morgan is scenic design supervisor. Sallie Durbin is costume shop manager. James Prifti is stage management supervisor. Props are by Emily Frei, with assistance from Azizo.

Tickets

“Gossip” begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 20, 21 and 22; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23.

Performances take place in Edison Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $20, or $15 for students, seniors and Washington University faculty and staff, and $10 for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office.

For more information, call (314) 935-6543.

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