Theatre Preview: Little Mercy looks to kill

By Ryan Pike

Jake and the Fat Man. Batman and Robin. Farley and Spade. The Odd Couple.

The world has encountered many great pairings who, despite their obvious differences, have managed to become enormously successful. The good folks at Ground Zero Theatre and Vertigo Mystery Theatre hope this trend will continue as they unleash the latest unique couple of Little Mercy and Weegee in the musical noir, Little Mercy’s First Murder.

Before confusion abounds, a clarification: Little Mercy’s First Murder ambitiously aims to embrace the elements of both the classic pulp noir genre and 1940s-style musical, combining them into an unstoppable entertainment juggernaut. The play chronicles one eventful night in the life of spinster Little Mercy Callaghan, whose sheltered life is turned upside-down when her mother is found with a knife in her back and Little Mercy is the only suspect. Things get interesting when Mercy goes on the lam with Weegee, the newsman sent to photograph the crime scene.

“It all starts out quite innocently,” explains Doug McKeag, who plays Weegee. “Before you know it you’re smack-dab in the middle of a murder mystery.”

If the concept of noir and the musical elements combining isn’t enough to pique your interest, acclaimed writing should do the trick. Little Mercy’s First Murder is the third of four plays written by Toronto playwright Morwyn Brebner and won seven Dora Mayor Moore Awards upon its 2003 premiere in Toronto. Brebner’s fourth effort, The Optimists, premiered in Calgary in 2004 and garnered multiple Betty Mitchell Award nominations. Having previously appeared in The Optimists, McKeag is something of a veteran of Brebner’s plays and offers a unique perspective on the playwright’s work.

“Her great thing is mixing incongruous things together into one big batch and pulling it onto the page,” McKeag elaborates. “Every single line means something in a person’s back story, means something about where they’re about to go and means something for where they are right now. It could be a really snappy piece of dialogue, but it’s never just that. A triple meaning is the minimum for her.”

McKeag hopes Little Mercy’s First Murder will meet with as much acclaim in Calgary as it did in Toronto, leaving audiences enthralled once they get into the swing of things. After all, the production contains tough-talking dames and hard-boiled newsmen performing show-stopping musical numbers in the midst of a murder mystery.

“There’s something for everyone in this show,” McKeag exposits. “It’s quite subtle and yet there’s quite a powerful story being told.”

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