The Studio Players plan Naples birthday party with murder plots, trolls, iffy art

Harriet Howard Heithaus
Naples Daily News
Peter (Mitch Frank) and Stephen (Robert Armstrong) rehearse for The Studio Players' production of "Slow Food" on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 in Naples, Fla.

The Studio Players has its first double-digit birthday this year, and Artistic Director Scott Lilly wants it to be a fun one.

First we skewer art critics.

Then we drop an outlier into the guys' weekend getaway.

Later on, we'll plot murder three different ways.

Only the last is out-and-out comedy. And, spoiler alert: "No one gets murdered," Lilly promised. Most other plays in its recently announced 2022-2023 season mix philosophy, morality and plain drama with a leavening of laughs. 

"It's been a heavy couple of years. We're just not going to get too deep before 2024," he said, echoing the sentiments of Kristen Coury at Gulfshore Playhouse. (In a turnabout Gulfshore will echo The Studio Players; it's presenting "Barefoot in the Park," the Players' current production, next year.)

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Lilly actually sees the most fun in "Murder at the Howard Johnson's." Its three totally inept plots — or rather plots by three totally inept murderers — has potential for the physical funniness of a Carol Burnett skit, he said. 

The Studio Players hearken back to Neil Simon's early days with his most successful comedy on Broadway, "Barefoot in the Park." It's about the marriage of a free spirit to a buttoned-down businessman and their attempt to make it in NYC in top-floor walkup.
Cast members include: Rosie Deleon, John Streally, Karen Ezrine, David Whalley, Jay Terzis and Gregg Birr. Directed by Paula Keenan.

 "Other Desert Cities" is possibly the far end of the pool, dealing with a family secret after a son's disappearance. The premise: A young woman announces at the family holiday gathering a decision to write her memoirs, including details surrounding her brother's suicide.

Only Lilly would think of it as The Studio Players' first Christmas play: "We have never done a play set at Christmas time in December," he explained.  

There's a twist in "Saving Kitty," in which the family looking askance at their daughter's fiance are appalled that he's an evangelical Christian. Her mother, certain this is a train wreck coming, sets out to change her daughter's mind.

All plays are at the Joan Jenks Auditorium, Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples. The Studio Players' 2022-2023 season begins mid-summer. Buy tickets online at,  flex tickets at 239-398-9192.

"Art": July 22-Aug. 7. By Yasmina Reza, winner of the 1998Tony award for best play, "Art" tests the parameters of both art and of friendship. In the case of the former, it comes as a totally white painting one man has bought at an extremely high price; in  the latter, it's his friends' reaction to his purchase. 

"Beer for Breakfast": Sept. 23-Oct. 9. By Sean Grennen. A longtime group of male friends annually rents a distant cabin for a guy weekend. But this weekend, one of the men doesn't show, and an unusual substitute has come in his place.

"Other Desert Cities": Nov. 25-Dec. 18. By Joy Robin Baitz. A family's holiday gathering is shredded by one daughter's announcement she has written her memoirs, and they will include family details surrounding her brother's suicide.

"Need to Know": Jan. 20-Feb. 5. By Jonathan Caren. Lilly and Steven are smart, talented, charming and a bit cruel. They begin mocking their geeky neighbor's website, trolling him online. But then they learn the wall they share with him is so thin he's possibly heard every belittling thing they've said. Possibly. 

"Saving Kitty": March 10-26, 2023. By Marisa Smith. When a couple learns their daughter is getting married, they're delighted. When they hear it's to a fundamentalist Christian, they're worried. Her mother hopes that Kitty will see this relationship isn't good, but she won't stop at "hoping" to break it up.

"Murder at the Howard Johnsons": May 19-June 24, 2023. By Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick. The wife and lover are there, then the wife and husband, then the husband and lover, each with plans to kill one of the three. But should we order dinner first?