Killing Me Softly, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Gloria J. Browne’s murder mystery has some amusing parts, though it’s far too drawn out and the dialogue includes much unnecessary exposition. But as directed by the usually capable Ilesa Lisa Duncan, the evening is a bore. It begins on a sour note, with an off-key rendition of the title song, and never recovers.

The premise is clever: someone poisons a powerful African-American lawyer, but who? Virtually everyone around him has some reason to want him dead: the closeted son, the neglected mistress, the put-upon secretary, the resentful office janitor, the glamorous female associate. Meanwhile the detective assigned to the case carries a grudge against the son and a torch for the associate. Though this mix of corruption and politics–the son is a reluctant mayoral candidate–should evoke film noir, instead it suggests Clue, with so many connections among the characters that the big-city setting begins to suggest an overcrowded country house with a body in the library.

It all would be engaging enough if the actors were at ease with their characters or the play’s style. Instead they struggle, some performing naturalistically and others camping it up. The equation of homosexuality with weakness is tiresome, and the repeated use of flashbacks seems a mere screenwriter’s trick.