Theater Review: All Out Rep's Case Number 346: Sarah Mayes charms and mystifies

The story that Sarah Mayes tells, insofar as I was able to follow it, goes something like this. Sarah Mayes and her best friend move to a new town, where Mayes falls in love. But the friend is killed in an automobile accident, the lover moves elsewhere, and a couple named the Belms move in nearby. Sarah suspects the Belms of wanting her dead, and is so disturbed by this suspicion that it affects her work as secretary to businessman Mr. Kirk, who connects her with a detective who tries to be helpful. But Mayes is murdered nonetheless, and the Belms, who own the antique murder weapon, are accused and convicted.

Years pass, and the private eye is pursued by thoughts that the true story was never told. So he delves back into his notes and tries to ferret out the real killer. When he finds certain forgotten phrases in his original jottings, he becomes further convinced that there’s more to the story than anyone realizes.


If what you’ve just read seems like a sketch of a deeper story, think again: that quick sketch is the story. We’re never presented with the slightest reason why the Belms (or anyone else) might want to murder Sarah, the deepest we get into Mr. Kirk’s story is his insistence that he and Sarah weren’t having an affair, and as for other suspects, there aren’t any. Sarah herself is about as insubstantial as characters get, and the detective doesn’t really detect much at all. In other words, the plot of this mystery is terminally thin. If you come to Case Number 346 expecting a Da Vinci Code mental workout, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

But if you’re willing to sit back and just enjoy some lovely surfaces, Case Number 346 has some real pleasures to offer. Most striking is the modern dance of Chase Adin (also the writer, director and choreographer) and Shana Perkins as the Belms. Desperately clasping each other as if trying to return to an original Unity, these two roll and tumble across the stage with a fierce energy that’s nothing short of riveting.

Also attractive is Sarah Hayes’ ballet as melancholy victim Sarah (in Thursday and Friday’s performances, Amanda Reardon will play the part), and the hip-hop calisthenics of Ben Mercado and Asha Nathan are fun to witness even as they seem (wonderfully) out of place.

Getting to the speaking actors, Zo Vallejo-Bryant plays the detective with just the right degree of modernist bafflement, but Stephen Ray, as businessman Kirk, is too expressive for a piece which, in all else, makes a virtue of ambiguity.

The more or less uncredited set (Glen Flores is listed as “Asst. Set Designer”) consists of the detective’s bureau and file cabinet in one area and a couple of deliberately stagy doors in another – which are really all that the performance needs. As a director, Adin is  sure-handed: even with its absences, this is an entirely professional production. I look forward to an Adin work that’s just as confident – but more dramatically filled out.

One of my favorite moments in Case 346 involves nothing more than a couple of stagehands moving two doors on wheels from stage left to center stage. It’s done slowly, portentously, as if too meaningful for words. It takes courage to ask the audience to sit still for this, but it works as theater against all expectations. Still, I can only guess how much more powerful it would be if Adin — a multi-talented artist worth encouraging — had something to say. A creator needs a worldview, a perspective, a vision. When Adin taps into his, we'll all  benefit.

Case Number 346: Sarah Mayes, an All Out Rep production at Gorilla Theatre is an intriguing, at times beautiful murder mystery/dance event that finally is missing too many key elements to be fully satisfying.

This is a play that asks us to wonder if the people convicted of its title character’s murder are really innocent; but it gives us almost no information on the accused on or on anyone else who might have the least interest in seeing Mayes dead. Fortunately, the dance that punctuates the show’s episodes is top-rate and at moments thrilling, and the stylized acting by the five-member cast (there are also two dancers) is often haunting.

Since the show is so efficient – under 90 minutes, including an intermission – it’s never boring, even at its most vague. I was as mystified on the way out as I was curious on the way in, but I don’t for a moment regret having been there.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.