Despite its fun, creative, and promising premise, Junior Sleuths is not a show that lives up to its full potential.
Set in a small town not unlike the one in Murder, She Wrote, a team of familiar-sounding middle/high schoolers solve weekly murders for their incompetent police department: the best junior detective in town, Frank Hardy, his less-bright brother Joe, and his obsessive girlfriend Iola; go-getter Nancy Drew; and of course Leroy Brown. When Frank gets a little too good at solving murders, Nancy and Leroy decide to take matters into their own hands in order to get back into the spotlight.
If you’ve seen any of Richard Hemphill’s previous shows at Fringe (Die, Zombie! Die!, Wunderjammer) then you know that you can expect a playful premise like this one, carried through to its logical extreme and entering the realm of the absurd. Junior Sleuths starts out like this, but it takes until nearly halfway through for the main murder mystery to get started, and when the surprise solution is revealed it seems more like a heavily-foreshadowed cop-out than a surprise twist. The acting is perfectly adequate (though Nick Amott’s creepy coach character comes off a little too creepy) with Victoria Luloff’s Nancy as probably the most believable – despite her sweet exterior there’s something slightly evil brewing under the surface, easily explaining her manipulative skills. There are some blocking hiccups that seemed out of place – due to the doubling of the cast, while examining a murder victim they have to mime it, and no one seemed to agree on where exactly the body was. Perhaps use one of the body outlines already on the stage?
Junior Sleuths is silly and entertaining, but it could be more so.
A Punchbag Playhouse production
Written by Richard Hemphill
Directed by Gabrielle Lazarovitz
Production by Patrice Forbes and Even Gilchrist
Stage Management by Amanda Logan and Even Gilchrist
Projections by Joel Garrow
Performed by Nicholas Dave Amott, Leslie Cserepy, Patrice Forbes, Allison Harris, Victoria Luloff, and Even Gilchrist