The lights dim in the University of West Georgia Townsend Center. The sound of an opening jail door fills the theatre. Caitlyn, the protagonist, steps into the spotlight as she takes center stage. Caitlyn becomes a domestic servant by day and investigative detective by night, leading the audience through twists and turns of an intellectual thriller disguised as a play.
Dr. Amy Cuomo, professor of theatre at UWG, presents “Whispers and Lies,” the first play she has both written and directed. In it, Caitlyn, a young Irish immigrant, and the audience search for information to piece together clues to solve the murder mystery.
“We all tell ourselves stories, and we act on those stories whether they are right or wrong,” said Cuomo. “The goal is to have the audience glued to the action because if they move, they may miss a crucial piece to solving the crime. It’s designed to get the audience to think so when the curtains close, they will think twice about the story they tell themselves.”
“Whispers and Lies” strays from the conventional structure of the traditional mystery. The play spans over six months while most mysteries have a tighter time constraint. It also demonstrates a non-linear timeline, allowing flashbacks to offer more clues essential to the plot. This is done to emphasize character relationships and give them time to develop.
“People think murder mysteries are plot-based, but other mysteries like Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s “Poirot” are character driven,” said Cuomo.
It took Cuomo a year and a half to construct the play but a lifetime to gather research. “Whispers and Lies” features factors of Cuomo’s trip to Ireland, where she spent time learning local phrases and studying the accent to later transcribe into script.
The Ireland trip, along with Cuomo’s upbringing in a Roman-Catholic household, supplies the play with details. For example, common phrases from neighbors and family are used as lines for characters, which help turn the actors into three-dimensional characters.
A seat in the director’s chair gives her the creative freedom to mold her life’s experiences into stage action so her vision for the piece shines through.
“In this case, I know the script better than any script I’ve directed,” said Cuomo. “It’s an instinctual knowledge because I’ve been with this script for years instead of months. In some ways it’s easier because I know what the author (myself) wanted. I don’t have to guess what the writer was going for.”
Cuomo did have to combat potential problems from taking on both tasks. Her tendency toward tunnel vision of her own work made her search for an outside perspective.
“Call in someone you trust who has a different point of view than you to discuss your work,” said Cuomo. “For me it was Shelly Elman, who is an experienced director and the chair of theatre [department]. Have an honest open discussion and take what criticisms you can use. I find it valuable as a director.”
Cuomo has an extensive background in theatre arts. She was a former stage manager for the Actors Equity Association, vice president of programming for the Georgia Theatre Conference and administrative director of the Virginia Theatre Association, among others.
Cuomo considers stage management the hardest job in theatre and prefers to either write or direct. The stage manager acts as the hub and wheel that keeps the show rolling. She gladly left that task to Wendy White, UWG Theatre Student Assistant, for this production.
The first showing is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23 in the UWG Townsend Center.