During the early 1980s, budding film talents Charles Edward Pogue and Larry Drake sat down and wrote a mystery play called Whodunnit, Darling?, a homage to their shared love of 1920s- and '30s-era mysteries by writers such as Dashiell Hammett and the noir films they inspired.
Then, their careers took off, though not because of the play.
Pogue went on to write screenplays for a number of hit films including The Fly (1986), Dragonheart (1996) and an acclaimed version of the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983). Drake played the groundbreaking character Benny on the NBC drama L.A. Law.
"We really didn't have time to promote the script," Pogue said of Whodunnit. "So, after the first few productions, it kind of languished."
In fact, Pogue said, he hasn't seen a production of the script since its world premiere in 1983 at Lexington's Studio Players. But 31 years later, the show is getting another Central Kentucky production at Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, which opens its 65th season with a three run of the show.
"We like to say it's 'clever conversation over cocktails and corpses,'" says Pogue, a Fort Thomas native who now lives in Georgetown after moving from Los Angeles.
The show seems a little like The Thin Man meets The Dukes of Hazzard. Private detective Damocles and Daphne Cole, like Thin Man's Nick and Nora Charles, have split up, but they are reunited at a Western dude ranch where a murder has taken place. To solve the case, attention has turned to Damocles (J. Richey Nash) and the goofy small-town sheriff (Chris Kateff).
But the spark is still there between our central couple, even if they are with other people.
Synge Maher as Daphne hands one of her signature martinis to a grateful Damocles saying, "The way to a man's heart is through his liver," replicating the drinking and witty repartee between Thin Man's William Powell and Myrna Loy.
"They are a pair of two-fisted drinkers," Pogue says, comparing his characters to the Nick and Nora of 1934.
The play is a homage to films from 80 years ago, but it came to Pioneer Playhouse through the very 21st-century avenue of social media. Pogue started going to Pioneer Playhouse to see performances by Johnny Crawford and his 1920s-style band. He made friends with artistic director Robby Henson and connected on Facebook.
"I was promoting some of my old plays on Facebook, and Robby saw it and asked me to send him a copy," Pogue says.
Henson says he and his mother, Charlotte Henson, read the play, "and we loved it. It does everything we want a play here to do. It's funny, it's entertaining, it's quick. We think our audience is going to love it."
Whodunnit also adds Pogue to the list of Kentucky playwrights whom Pioneer Playhouse has presented. That is becoming a signature of the theater, this season setting a high-water mark with three of the five productions by homegrown authors: Whodunnit; the world premiere of The Wonder Team, Robby Henson's play about the 1921 Centre College football team that shocked the nation by beating perennial powerhouse Harvard; and Walking Across Egypt, Danville native Catherine Bush's adaptation of Clyde Edgerton's novel, making its Kentucky premiere.
Pogue says he is happy to be part of the effort to present Kentucky writers. But most of all, he's happy to see his old play back onstage.
"It's good to see it holds up," he says. "And it's good to be back at rehearsals and part of the process. That's the real treat for me."