Moral Imperative Review - The Philosophy of Murder

There’s never a dull moment in playwright Samuel Warren Joseph’s intriguing thriller, MORAL IMPERATIVE. From gripping scene to suspenseful moment, this is a play which will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Directed by multi-talented Howard Storm (actor, writer, stand-up comedian, director), MORAL IMPERATIVE delves into questions which may be better left unanswered.

University professor and Provost Seth (Martin Thompson) is all set to assume the mantle of college president – when the unthinkable happens. The Governing Board selects someone else; and, to make it even worse, that someone else is someone whom Seth went to school with way back when – and didn’t get along with to boot. As Seth’s devoted wife Mary (Susan Demante) tries to smooth his feathers and assuage his pain, Seth and his former student, current colleague, and close friend Robert (Ken Kamlet) mull over this unexpected turn of events. They decide that it just might be in everyone’s best interests if Oscar “goes away.” And so they develop a plan to speed up Oscar’s exit from this world.

Enter Oscar (David Hunt Stafford), Seth’s old rival who plans to modernize the old-fashioned school by adding a new program in hotel management and doing away with tenure for its professorial staff. Since Seth is opposed to almost any idea Oscar has, the exit plan is green-lighted; and Oscar is given a push towards the next life. Oscar has a Seth-assisted heart attack and collapses - just as Seth’s physician wife Mary comes home, sees a barely breathing Oscar on the floor, and embarks on triage. Will Oscar soon be a goner? Will he gain consciousness and point the finger at Seth and Robert? Thereby hangs the tale.

Tensions ramp up as Robert’s guilt about his role in Seth’s plans begins to mess with his mind, especially when Detective Pauline (Brandee Steger) starts asking questions about Oscar’s last moments before his heart attack. There are lots of unanswered questions and no clear responses. Life becomes a roller-coaster for all involved as Seth tries to retain a calm and rational voice amid the chaos.

MORAL IMPERATIVE is a fascinating study of intelligent minds and psychopathic thoughts. Almost the entire cast does an excellent job of infusing strain, building gradually into unbearable tension. Unfortunately, Robert’s wife Karen (Kyoko Okazaki) seemed miscast. It was difficult to understand her lines, and she tended to overact and “mug,” which interrupted the pace and direction of the play. Otherwise, the skilled cast had a good grip on where the story was leading and how to get there. 

As always, Jeff G. Rack’s set design, Ric Zimmerman’s lighting, and Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s sound were ably done and enhanced the production. If you’re a mystery buff, this is definitely a play which you will enjoy and which is highly recommended.

MORAL IMPERATIVE runs through October 17, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Theatre 40 is at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212 (on the campus of Beverly Hills High School). Tickets are $30. For information and reservations, call 310-364-0535 or go online.

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