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My Treatise on Murder Mystery

The following was written by Heidi Armbruster, playwright of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, premiering at HVSF June 13-September 1, 2024.

My Treatise on Murder Mystery

(Why I love it and think you will too)

“In the Murder Game, the inciting incident is a dead body. And where there is one body — another will surely follow. The only rule of the murder game is that a life calls for a life. So, the coliseum is called to order and the hunt begins.

In 1926, murder was a hanging offense. Before the abolition of capital punishment, murder carried the threat of imminent execution often within weeks of the guilty verdict. Suspects were tried in the sensationalized press before they were ever tried in a court of law. And God bless any person with “outsider status;” an immigrant, refugee, person of color, woman, servant, artist —- the players, outsiders all. The stakes are personal.

In the aftermath of World War One, when social and political dislocation was raging, the populace clamored for solutions to their puzzles. It’s no coincidence that a hundred years later, in our own time of social and political dislocation, rebuilding, and reckoning, the populace again clamors for satisfying narrative solutions.

The theater is a coliseum. It delivers the players; the gladiators and the lions. But the audience, and even the players themselves, don’t yet know who is who — which is which. All we know is that someone will lose, and when they do, they will forfeit their life. So, we lean forward to watch the players fight for their lives.

And this is where technique, craft, and tactics engage. The players do all this fighting — all this life or death playing — all this brutality — while sipping tea and champagne. The mask takes as much effort as the fight itself. The cover and the fight are intrinsically linked by an equal and opposite force. When they fissure and collide; resulting in a confession, a break down, a rupture of the social order — these are the moments where the genre comes alive and the audience gasps.

The mask is the tool which the player brings to the coliseum.

And so, we play at the emperor’s pleasure. A high stakes game which begins and ends with death. It’s clever — but that’s not the end game. It’s funny — but the humor is a result of the fight for survival. It’s clown — insofar as Gaullier’s “le jeu” is agreed on and played to the death. It’s fast. It’s brutal. It’s cruel. It’s nihilistic as f**k. But it’s all washed down with a spoonful of champagne. With wit. With humor. With delight. And those who escape — those who win the game – win beautiful freedom.

The audience’s way into the game is (partly) through information. The way information is fed to the audience must whet their appetite and keep them hungry for the ultimate solution; Who Will Die.

When played well, the reward is an audience who plays along – leaning forward in their seats — fancying themselves cleverer than the players on stage — yearning secretly to be in their place — puzzling their way to a solution — ultimately closing the gap between actors and audience. We invite the audience beyond the footlights to be a part of the game.”

The Playwright

Headshot Image for Heidi Armbruster

Heidi Armbruster

Playwright (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: HVSF, Mrs. Christie: Theatreworks, Dorset Theatre Festival, Primary Stages (workshop), Orchard Project (residency). Dairyland: Playmakers Rep, Chautauqua, workshops at Playhouse on Park, Primary Stages, The…

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