Think of it as the board game “Clue” come to life on stage.
There are several murder suspects with equal motive and opportunity, but just who is the killer in “It Could Be Any One Of Us”?
It all depends on the turn of a playing card.
“There’s a moment when the play itself chooses who the murderer is going to be,” said Jay Jenkins, director of the Phoenix Theatre production. “It’s absolutely up to chance.”
The play, staging Feb. 1-24 at Phoenix Theatre in Edmonds, is about a family of failures who come to blows over a contentious will. “It Could Be Any One Of Us” has multiple endings, depending on a card game early in the show in which the killer is randomly selected, meaning each show will be different.
The family in conflict live together in an isolated manor. There’s Mortimer, a composer whose music has never been performed and who controls the cash; his younger brother Brinton, an artist who has never sold any art; their younger sister Jocelyn, a novelist who has never been published; her lover Norris, an insurance investigator and aspiring detective; and Jocelyn’s dysfunctional teenage daughter, Amy.
Mortimer, who is angry about the family’s indifference toward his compositions, tells them all he will disinherit the family and give everything to his former pupil, Wendy.
This frustrates Mortimer’s siblings and niece, who each have their own reasons for wanting the inheritance.
Brinton, played by James Lynch, deeply wants a wealthier, more comfortable life. Jocelyn and Amy, however, have motivations that are far more primal in nature, said Susan Connors, who plays Jocelyn.
“She’s very protective of her daughter, and she’s very protective of her partner,” Connors said. “Her daughter is also very protective of her mom. Even though for the most part they’re crazy dysfunctional, there is real love and affection in the family.”
Mortimer invites Wendy (Tina Devrin) to the house for the weekend, who becomes an obvious target for the snubbed family members. She even survives a few botched attempts on her life during her stay. “Wendy is really this fish out of water walking into this art madhouse,” Jenkins said.
But the actual victim in “It Could Be Any One Of Us” is not who it should be — giving wannabe detective Norris the task of finding the killer and, in turn, making up for years of unsolved cases.
The play, written by revered British playwright Alan Ayckbourn in 1983, is a parody of the country house thriller genre.
It received critical acclaim for having hilarious, absurd characters and for flipping normal conventions of the genre — ridiculous plotting, larger-than-life characters and a stormy night in an isolated house — on its head.
He was also praised for writing a script that can subtly change depending on who the killer is, making every performance slightly different from the last.
It’s a challenge to pull off even for actors as experienced as Connors, a Phoenix Theatre vet who has performed in more than 100 plays.
“There’s no question: None of us have done anything like this before,” Connors said. “It’s really interesting for an actor. That’s why I was so excited. It’s a challenge, it’s a little scary, but those are the reasons why it’s fun.”
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
What: “It Could Be Any One Of Us”
Where: 9673 Firdale Ave., Edmonds
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Feb. 1-24
Tickets: $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, students and military
More: www.tptedmonds.org or 206-533-2000