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.