The Times photo by Betsy ReasonCathie Morgan (clockwise from center), Barb Weaver, Zach Buzan, Tim Long and Michael Lipphardt play the roles of five once-famous mystery writers who are brought together to collaborate and write a new murder-mystery TV series in The Belfry Theatre’s “Done to Death” mystery comedy, opening tonight.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason

Cathie Morgan (clockwise from center), Barb Weaver, Zach Buzan, Tim Long and Michael Lipphardt play the roles of five once-famous mystery writers who are brought together to collaborate and write a new murder-mystery TV series in The Belfry Theatre’s “Done to Death” mystery comedy, opening tonight.
Nancy Lafferty wants to sit in the audience and enjoy the show tonight.

The director of The Belfry Theatre's mystery comedy, "Done to Death," said if she does her job well, then there is nothing to do except watch.

"Actors are on their own. They shouldn't need me on opening night. And they don't," Lafferty said Thursday. "It's a solid cast, and they are ready."

In actuality, Lafferty may not be sitting in the audience, but rather standing, or maybe sitting backstage tonight. She hadn't yet decided. But she is OK with any of the above, because opening night, tonight, is sold out.

When I talked to Lafferty on Thursday, she had given her cast the night off. "We are really ready. And we are really tired. So I want them to rest," said the first-time Belfry director.

"Done to Death" runs three weekends, through Oct. 6 and is the first show in The Belfry's 53rd season. Tickets are still available. It's the first time that the play has been on stage at the Noblesville theater, located at the roundabout at Greenfield Avenue and Union Chapel Road.

The mystery-comedy is about five once-famous mystery writers who are brought together to collaborate and write a new murder-mystery TV series.

Jessica Olive (Barb Weaver) and her husband Whitney Olive (Michael Lipphardt) are a couple who write sophisticated murders. Brad Benedict (Zach Buzan) is a young author of the James Bond school. Rodney Duckton (Tim Long) is a retired writer of the hard-hitting method. And Mildred Maxwell (Cathie Morgan) is an aging queen of the logical murder.

They gather at the mysterious Vulture's Vault in the Caribbean to write a murder mystery and make a comeback. While they're collaborating, murders begin happening all around them.

The fun continues as Jason Summers (Mike Hlavek), an eager television producer, not only commentates in front of a TV camera, but he breaks the stage's invisible barrier, or "fourth wall" as he turns and talks to The Belfry audience, heightening the comedy.

"I do love to laugh," said Lafferty, who chose "Done to Death," written by Fred Carmichael, because, she said, "It's entertaining and smart," a "throwback piece," first performed in 1970. She likes the comic elements and the serious portions. "It's a wonderful example of both theater masks," she said.

The acting and lighting effects help the audience to understand exactly what is going on, Lafferty said. Eric Matters designed the lighting, and Belfry veteran Fran Knapp is the operator.

While it's Lafferty's directorial debut at The Belfry, she isn't new to the stage. An Ohio native, she was born into an artistic, talented family, and was often acting in plays growing up. In high school, she performed regularly as an actress, and at the University of Akron, she majored in speech communication and theater. She went on to direct hundreds of shows in high school theater programs in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

Lafferty moved to Indiana in 1996 to attend Ball State University, to earn her master's degree in counseling, and to be near her brother in Anderson.

In 2004, she auditioned at The Belfry for one of her favorite plays, "The Curious Savage." She said, "I had played the role of Ethel P. Savage as a junior in high school, and I directed the play when I taught high school theater in Florida." Noblesville's Ron Richards, the show's director, cast Lafferty in that very same role.

Fast forward to fall 2016, when she was cast in The Belfry's "Girls of the Garden Club," as Birdie, a role that she was recently nominated for Encore Association's Best Major Supporting Actress in a Comedy. "It was, honestly, one of the most challenging roles I have had onstage, and I appreciate the Encore smile," she said. Awards night is Oct. 30 in Indianapolis.

For Lafferty, who made a career change to being an elementary school counselor and a pastor of her church, said each of her roles support each other and "converge to aid in my understanding of human beings and relationships."

Being a counselor and pastor allows her "to direct with greater understanding" and "manage the humanity of my actors with much more grace," she said.

Being a director is all about the details and about being a visionary and managing people, and about getting out of the actors' way "and set them free to create and discover."

""Directing is one of the most creative, artistic experiences that an individual can have," she said.

Before directing "Done to Death," she assistant directed The Belfry's "Dashing Through the Snow" and "Perfect Wedding," during the 2016-17 theater season.

"I love working at The Belfry Theatre. The other directors are so helpful, and the spirit and mission of this community theater is very open and welcoming," she said.

And another thing that she has learned, "There is no sense of automatic casting in this theater. An actor who is new to The Belfry stage is given the same opportunity at auditions as those who have trod the boards many times."

She said, "The Belfry will always be my home theater."

-Contact me at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.