By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
There's something to be said for seeing the world in shades of gray. For 26 years that's been the philosophy of Dallas' Pegasus Theatre, which performs its annual murder mystery comedy in trademarked "Living Black and White" style.
This year's show, opening at the Eisemann Center in Richardson on December 29, is The Frequency of Death!, another adventure in Pegasus founder, playwright and star Kurt Kleinmann's series of 16 plays about hapless actor-turned-detective Harry Hunsacker. Every Kleinmann production is designed to look like a black-and-white 1930s movie, with costumes, makeup, hair and scenery rendered in silvery hues. To protect the special techniques used by Pegasus, Kleinmann requires his cast and crew to sign nondisclosure agreements and refuses to share the methods with other theaters.
"And I've had requests from all over the world," Kleinmann says. "I'm not interested in teaching anyone else to do it. That would dilute what we do."
Half the cast of this year's show are newbies to black-and-white world. They undergo Kleinmann's performance boot camp, which includes lessons on applying the special makeup and practice in how to speak onstage without revealing too much pink tongue and avoiding touching their faces or laying a hand on other actors. That might rub off some of the gray greasepaint that covers actors' skin from forehead to ankle.
Frequency is a revival of a play Pegasus has done before, but with heavy rewrites, he says. He's also brought in New York director Robert Bartley, who's directed shows off-Broadway and appeared as an actor in several Broadway productions. Bartley, a North Texas native and University of North Texas grad, is an avid devotee of the classic black-and-white movies that inspire Kleinmann's work.
The Frequency of Death! follows Hunsacker and his loyal, much smarter assistant Nigel Grouse (Ben Bryant) as they solve a murder case set in a radio studio during a show-within-the-show called "The Mystery Challenge." Veteran Broadway actress Susan Mansur stars in what Bartley describes as "the Tallulah Bankhead role."
After a four-weekend run at the Eisemann, the show will move to the new MCL Grand Theatre in Lewisville for three performances. "It's a baby step to a Texas tour," Kleinmann says. "We need to know what it will take to take a show like ours on the road."
For 17 years, Pegasus occupied its own home theater in Deep Ellum. They left there in 2002, produced a black-and-white play in New York City and since 2005 have done one show annually, opening at the Eisemann around New Year's. "To me, cold weather means mysteries," Kleinmann says. "We're huddled inside by the fire. What better way to pass the time than solving a good whodunit?"