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Death by Design - Full Length Play, Comedy

Death by Design

Rob Urbinati

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Full Length Play, Comedy

4m, 4f

ISBN: 9780573700934

What happens when you mix the brilliant wit of Noel Coward with the intricate plotting of Agatha Christie? Set during a weekend in an English country manor in 1932, Death by Design is a delightful and mysterious “mash-up” of two of the greatest English writers of all time.

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Description | Characters | Rental Materials | Author | Now Playing | Reviews
: Acting Edition
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Minimum Fee: $75 per performance


Full Length Play


Farce, Adaptations (Literature), Mystery/Thriller

120 minutes (2 hours)

Time Period - 1930s

Settings Of Play - The action of the play takes place in the at living room of the Bennett’s house at Cookham in 1932.


Physical Comedy

Cutting Approved for Competition

Interior Set

Period Costumes


Gun Shots


Appropriate for all audiences, Adult, Senior, Teen (Age 14 - 18)


College Theatre / Student, Community Theatre, Dinner Theatre, Professional Theatre, Reader's Theatre, Large Stage, Blackbox / Second Stage /Fringe Groups

What happens when you mix the brilliant wit of Noel Coward with the intricate plotting of Agatha Christie? Set during a weekend in an English country manor in 1932, Death by Design is a delightful and mysterious “mash-up” of two of the greatest English writers of all time. Edward Bennett, a playwright, and his wife Sorel Bennett, an actress, flee London and head to Cookham after a disastrous opening night. But various guests arrive unexpectedly – a conservative politician, a fiery socialist, a nearsighted ingenue, a zany modern dancer – each with a long-held secret. When one of the guests is murdered, it’s left to Bridgit, the feisty Irish maid with a macabre interest in homicide, to solve the crime. Death by Design is more than homage – it’s a new classic. 

 Death by Design is a wonderful new comedy, peopled with vivid, fascinating characters. It merges wit, sophistication and even pratfalls into a medley of humor and fun. Playwright Rob Urbinati must have had as much fun writing this comedy as the audience has in savoring it.  - Houston Press
The play is called Death by Design, but don’t expect it to unlock the mystery to designing the perfect murder, unless the weapon of choice is laughter. Playwright Rob Urbinati has designed a recipe for fun that’s perfect for livening up the dead of winter: Combine one part murder, two parts mayhem, and season with a hearty dose of clever wit…Think Noel Coward meets Agatha Christie, and you’ll have some idea what to expect. Both served as inspiration for Death by Design. The result is a smart play, masquerading as an all-out farce. Death by Design is chock-full of puns, one-liners, off-the-wall references and keen jokes that one viewing alone could never fully glean all its comic gems. – Maine Sunday Telegram
Rob Urbinati’s Death by Design is a wildly funny comedy that’s exquisitely crafted in the style of British playwright Noel Coward with a major added fillip: an Agatha Christie-style whodunit murder mystery.

The protagonists in Death by Design comprise a sophisticated and arrogant playwright and his air-headed actress wife. Their latest play has just been panned by the London critics, and the pair retreat to their country estate to lick their wounds and continue their psychological warfare. They’re quickly joined by a host of guests, some invited, some not. Soon one of the guests lies lifeless on a sofa. All the characters have a motive for murder, and the mystery is solved by an impudent, sharp-tongued housemaid in cahoots with a young libertine chauffeur.

I’m a big fan of Noel Coward, England’s greatest comic playwright of the 20th century. Death by Design is intentionally written in Coward’s style, complete with interesting, over-drawn characters, brilliant comic repartee and wonderfully incisive social commentary. Plus there’s the Agatha Christie element: a country estate full of mysterious guests and isolated by a snipped telephone wire.

Death by Design is definitely a major must-see. - The Forecaster

Edward and Sorel Bennett have had yet another row, in the fallout of their latest London opening, and have chased each other to their country house, to the irritated surprise of their maid and chauffeur. They proceed to torment each other so creatively and with such schizophrenic relish that one might wonder whether Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? had been added into the mash-up cocktail. The lovebirds are soon joined by a cacophony of guests with interestingly constellated mutual resentments, including conservative politician Walter Pearce, leftist radical Eric, and bohemian artist/dancer Victoria Van Roth. By the time there's a body to contend with, everyone in residence has expressed multiple murderous motives.

These characters have some great lines to deliver, particularly (of course) playwright Edward, in whose mouth the snarky urbanities are like whiskeyed butter. Playwright Urbinati gives him and the others a fun array of verbal flourishes — rhymed character names are an ongoing gag — and the conversation takes some entertaining digs at theater itself, as well as the archetypes of the British class system. And oh, yes, the murder. Of course it's less a mortal emergency than a vehicle for everyone's lampoonery, especially once they've drained the brandy and moved on to gin. - The Portland Phoenix


Death by Design was originally produced at Houston Family Arts Center, Houston, Texas (Bob Clark, Executive Director; Teri Clark, Artistic Director; Mario Garza, Producing Director) September 9 - 11, 2011, under the direction of Lisa Garza.



4m, 4f


Non-Traditional casting


N/A (Not a musical)

BRIDGIT - the maid; Irish, crabby, warm-hearted, fifties
JACK - the chauffer; Cockney, charming, clever, twenties
EDWARD BENNETT - the playwright; urbane, vain, thirties/forties
SOREL BENNETT - the actress; glamorous, daffy, thirties/forties
WALTER PEARCE - the politician; stiff, conservative, thirties/forties
ERIC - the radical; emphatic, fiery, twenties
VICTORIA VAN ROTH - the Bohemian; intense, artistic, any age
ALICE - the visitor; sweet, shy, twenties
Rental Materials


N/A (Not a musical)


N/A (Not a musical)

Rob Urbinati

Rob Urbinati

Rob Urbinati was a Theatre Consultant for Home Box Office in New York City, and has directed over fifty plays at theatres, colleges and universities across the country. Mr. Urbinati’s first play as a writer, Hazelwood Jr. High, was directed by Scott Elliott for the New Group. A scene from the play is published in Smith & Kraus’s Best Stage Scenes 2000, and the play is published by Samuel French. ... view full profile

Now Playing
Rachel Svec 7/9/2015 12:42 PM
Sue Higbie 5/31/2015 10:33 PM
The audience loved every moment of this play; we got a standing ovation. It was also a great learning experience for my Acting 11/12 students, as they noticed comical allusions to "The Scottish Play," "The Importance of Being Ernest" and more. Developing the accents also proved to be a wonderful learning experience, and when they turn 19 they can impress their friends by being able to make martinis. We had a blast!

Sue Higbie
Sandra Smith 10/21/2014 12:08 PM
This play showed a great deal of promise and ideal for my local am dram group to produce next summer.  It began well, was pacey and witty and seemed to tick all the boxes for me.  However, the ending was odd and disappointing, almost as if the writer either couldn't come up with a decent finish or just lost interest!  I'd score it 4/5 in spite of the ending but can't help but feel that some of our audience would leave scratching their heads!

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