‘Detective Pimbley,’ a stage whodunit marinated in booze and puns

A theater troupe that calls itself the Impressionable Players should know the importance of making a good first impression. And so, it bodes well that the opening line of the troupe’s 2013 Capital Fringe show is a cleverly subverted cliche. There’s a crack of thunder followed by a rush of rain, and the spotlight falls on actor Noah Langer, who is seated at a desk wearing a telltale trench coat and fedora.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Langer deadpans, “and I’d already had three dark and stormies.”

(Courtesy The Impressionable Players and Capital Fringe Festival) - Noah Langer stars in the Capital Fringe Festival play "Detective Pimbley and and the Case of the Rich Dead Lady" by Ann Fraistat and Shawn Fraistat.

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Friday’s audience let out a collective guffaw and settled in for the boozy whodunit that is “Detective Pimbley and the Case of the Rich Dead Lady.” Langer stars as the dimwitted, hyper-literal private eye whose services are solicited by three members of the Sultry family. The case at hand is who killed eldest sister Madge: her husband or one of two sexpot sisters who were written out of their father’s will.

The script — by the sibling playwriting team of Ann and Shawn Fraistat — is chock full of one-liners, though the plot isn’t much of a potboiler. As Samantha, Natalie Pyle Smith parodies Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca,” while Katie Jeffries is way over the top as Rose, a femme fatale who repeatedly rips her own bodice. Pimbley’s attempts at detective work include collecting handwriting samples with crayons and urging his suspects to confess to his hand puppet, Mr. Wiggles.

The murder mystery is a new genre for Impressionable Players, a collective of University of Maryland alumni who previously brought “Pandora” and “Romeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending” to Fringe. “Detective Pimbley” has all the charm of the first two shows but could be accused of pandering to its fan base and carrying a few jokes too far. This is theater for English majors who listen to “Guy Noir,” by English majors who must love Garrison Keillor. Come for the puns, stay to find out whodunit.

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

Detective Pimbley and the Case of the Rich Dead Lady

By Ann and Shawn Fraistat. 75 minutes.
At Capital Fringe through July 28.
Visit capitalfringe.org.

An earlier version of this review had an incorrect name for the “Romeo and Juliet” play.

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