There has been a murder at the Arclight Repertory Theatre. Don’t worry—it isn’t a real killing but a part of the company’s new world-premiere play, The Zahsman Murders. Written by Jim Colgan and directed by Jenny Hollingworth, this is a theatrical mystery unfolding inside a police station in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where officers are trying to make sense out of a young woman’s death, as gruesome as anything in The Silence of the Lambs or Se7en but, mercifully, not occurring onstage.

In writing The Zahsman Murders, Jim Colgan says that he “had no lofty goals, no cautionary tale to tell, no moral lesson to teach, no deep meaning purposely buried for critics and commentators to ponder.” His play is simply a whodunit in the classic tradition. However, it is definitely not a cheesy, mystery-dinner-style evening. This is a serious play, with wonderfully engaging characters, a well-crafted plot and generally fine acting, even if the performers sometimes fumble their lines.

On the case are Sgt. Rick Nixon (Mark Gelineau), Lt. Jerry Deming (Stuart Hall), Dr. Diane Fleming (Jenna Gavin) and medical examiner Laura Murphy (Lessa Bouchard). Marc Tabor plays an apparently homeless and mentally ill man who is incarcerated at the station, thrashing about violently in his cell and shouting gibberish. He often repeats the words “Zahsman” and “Well, sport”; the latter expression leads Nixon to mistakenly christen him “Popeye.”

This mysterious character was found at the scene of the crime and is thus the prime suspect. However, the more the investigators mull over the case, the less likely it seems that Popeye is the real culprit. The plot further thickens when another police detective (Andy Shapiro) arrives from out of town, linking the recent murder in Poughkeepsie with a string of similar killings elsewhere. It appears that the murderer is a devious and highly methodical serial killer who will certainly strike again. And what’s worse, anyone could be the killer—even one of the investigators.

Who is Popeye, and how does he fit into all of this? Who, or what, is “Zahsman”? And, most importantly, who is the killer? The audience is challenged to answer these questions, and more than a few are likely to remain unanswered until the very end.

The Zahsman Murders
An Arclight Repertory Theatre production
Through Jan. 29, $15–$25
WORKS/San José, 451 S. First St., San Jose
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