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University of Iowa News Release

June 17, 2005

Iowa Summer Rep 2005 Expands With Ludwig's Mystery Thriller 'Postmortem'

The Iowa Summer Rep festival of plays by Ken Ludwig expands with the opening of the clever thriller "Postmortem" at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 30 in the David Thayer Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Additional performances for which tickets are still available will be at 8 p.m. July 1, 2, 5, 7, 13, 17 and 20-21, and at 2 p.m. July 24 (July 12 and 19 performances are already sold out).

Indulging in Ludwig's playful love of theater, "Postmortem" is an antic mystery filled with sleuthing, a seance, a deathbed letter, shattering windows and bottles bashed over the head.

"'Postmortem' stands out in the 2005 Iowa Summer Rep season because it isn't a comedy," says director John Cameron, a faculty member in the UI Department of Theatre Arts. "Although unusual for Ken Ludwig, 'Postmortem' is a murder mystery, based on a clever device: The main character is the famed American actor William Gillette, who originated the role of Sherlock Holmes after adapting the character for the stage near the turn of the century. It made him rich and famous. 

"Ludwig has ingeniously made Gillette the main character in a fictitious circumstance. Gillette must solve the mystery of his fiance's murder, one year to the day after her death. Part Conan Doyle and part Agatha Christie, the play is full of surprises and thrills. I think audiences will have a great time watching it."     

Not only is the play's central character an actual historical figure, but the setting is real, too -- a faux castle that Gillette built in Connecticut, where it has been restored as a tourist attraction in Gillette Castle State Park ( The Iowa Summer Rep set design by UI alumnus Edward Matthew Walter is based on the actual interior of the castle.

William Gillette is no longer a household name, although he is revered by Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts. As the end of the 19th century approached, Gillette was a successful actor, one of the pioneers of a naturalistic style of acting. He made his 1877 New York debut in Mark Twain's "Gilded Age" and starred in his own first play, "The Professor," in 1881. Although he was not a favorite of the critics, his work had significant popular appeal, making his a well-known theatrical star before his identification with Holmes.

In 1897 Gillette secured the right to adapt Arthur Conan Doyle's five-act play of "Sherlock Holmes," which opened in London in 1899 and New York in 1901, beginning a worldwide series of performances that continued for more than 30 years. Gillette's farewell tour, beginning in 1929, lasted for three years.

Gillette appeared as Sherlock Holmes more than 1,300 times on stage -- creating the popular image of Holmes subsequently taken on by numerous other actors --  was filmed in the role in 1916, and in 1930 became the first actor to portray Holmes on the radio.

Gillette's characterization provided the basis for Basil Rathbone's well-known film interpretations, where Rathbone not only used the curved pipe and walking stick that Gillette introduced, but also mimicked many of Gillette's nuances and mannerisms. In "Postmortem," Ludwig imagines that Gillette has planned to live up to his Sherlock Holmes image by solving a mystery himself.

For Iowa Summer Rep, Gillette is portrayed by Tim Budd, a familiar presence in UI productions. Also in the cast are professional equity actors Jim VanValen and Kathleen Huber. The role of May, Gillette's new leading lady, is played by Heather Bodie. Marion is played by Genevieve Lynch and Bobby, who is infatuated with May, is played by Aaron Foster DuPree.

Artistic contributors to the Iowa Summer Rep production of "Postmortem" include costumes designer Jenny Nutting Kelchen, lighting designer by Bryon Winn and sound designer William Barbour.

Iowa Summer Rep, the professional Actors Equity company organized by the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, has carved out a unique niche among professional summer companies during the last two decades by making each season a festival of plays by a single contemporary playwright.

Summer Rep is a U/RTA (University/Resident Theatre Association) company employing Equity actors and stage managers, as well as students who earn points toward their Actors Equity card.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The production of "Postmortem" includes cigarette and pipe smoking.

Iowa Summer Rep 2005 is supported by the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.

Tickets for "Postmortem" are $22 ($17 for senior citizens, and $10 for UI students and youth). The play is also part of a discounted season subscription package, available through July 10. The other plays in the package are Ludwig's comedies "Lend Me a Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo."

Individual tickets and series packages are available from the Hancher box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available an hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

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