Wrightsville is a typical American town, buried in the great American heartland, up to its neck in good old American corn. No family in town is more respected than the one named, naturally enough, the Wrights. Daddy Wright is the town banker, Momma Wright is the town social lioness, daughter Patricia the town beauty, Nora the town recluse, Lola the town scandal. Ellery Queen likes sophistication, savoir faire, and all the swinging assets of Manhattan and its environs. So what in the world is he doing in this unearthly place? It is the job of the famous detective to find out which of the Wrights is the town poisoner. He must match his wits with a diabolically cunning and ruthless killer, while defending himself against a charge of murder.
It all starts when Ellery Queen goes to a small town,
disguised as Ellery Smith, to write a novel. He moves into a little house originally built
for Nora Wright, whose fiancé, Jim Haight, had left town on the eve of the wedding three
years before. Then Jim comes back, and things begin to happen. There are the three
post-dated letters, for instance, and the attempted arsenic poisonings, which convince
Ellery that someone is going to be murdered - but who? and why? Then the poisoned cocktail
at Nora's New Year's Eve party, and the trial by public opinion on the streets, and what
turns out to be a mistrial in court. Two more deaths follow, from more-or-less natural
causes, before Patricia, Nora's sister, supplies Ellery with the one fact he needs to make
a perfect and logical whole out of what he calls "the oddest case of mixed-up people,
emotions, and events I've ever run across." This is one of Queen's best.
Apparently the story grew out of a casual,
one-sentence reference to predated letters which one of the partners ran
across in reading a popular biography
Right: It’s 1940, and there is nowhere in the country seemingly more charming than Wrightsville. The Depression has abated, and the New England town is booming once again. There is hope in Wrightsville, but Ellery Queen has come looking for death. The mystery author is hoping for fodder for a novel, and he senses the corruption that lurks beneath the apple-pie façade. A jinxed house, poisonings and murder are all on the menu, as Queen sits back, waiting for crime to come to him.
On January 29. 2013 playwright and West 87th Street Irregular Joe Goodrich brought us a Calamity Town reading! Directed by Dan Winerman. Tony Award nominee John Cariani (Fiddler on the Roof) played detective Ellery Queen in this reading of Calamity Town at the New Dramatists, NYC. The cast also included Farah Alvin, Jeffrey M. Bender, Stephen C. Bradbury, Julia Coffey, Katie Northlich, Jim Stanek, Dan Truman and Jennifer Dorr White.
Subsequently from January 23 to February 21 2016 the play was brought to the Vertigo theatre in Calgary, Canada. The play, a part of the BD&P Mystery Theatre Series, was co-directed by Hall and Pronyshyn.
Above: Tyrell Crews plays Ellery Queen (Photograph credits Tim Nguyen, Calgary Herald)
Tyrell Crews played Ellery Queen, Julie Orton played Nora Wright and Lindsey Angell her sister Patty who becomes Queen’s love interest and who talks him into solving the crimes in Wrightsville.
“My Calamity Town is Our Town with murder. That’s not just a catch phrase", Joseph Goodrich insists pointing out the major comparisons of his and Thornton Wilder’s plays. “The are both set in a small New England town in the 1940s. They feature minimalistic settings to tell the story. There are no major sets and the actors bring in props and chairs and little set pieces. Both plays are completely, overtly theatrical. You know you’re watching a play at all times but you can still be drawn into these people’s lives, hopes, dreams and sorrows. Finally, in both plays, under what looks to be a peaceful, idyllic setting there are hidden sorrows."
Above: They feature minimalistic settings to tell the story. There are no major sets and the actors bring in props and chairs and little set pieces ... (Photograph credits Tim Nguyen, Calgary Herald).
Other articles on this book
(1) Reading Ellery Queen - Calamity Town Jon Mathewson (Feb 2015)
(2) Famed author to live in Wrightsville Ho-Ling (Sep 2016)
(3) The Green Capsule (Aug 14 2021)
(4) Vintage Pop Fictions dfordoom (Jan 29. 2016)
(5) In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel - Puzzle Doctor (Jan 8. 2014)
(6) The Grandest Game in the World Nick Fuller (Aug 18. 2021)
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