Hello! You will be hearing from me!
— Voiceover warning the audience on what to expect
The mortuary business never runs out of customers. In fact, when done right, there’s a way to make some extra dividends with a dead body. Morbid? Yes! Possible? Hell yes! In fact it did happen. The Black Widow murderers were two women who made a living by killing homeless men and pocketing the insurance money. They were charged with murder and nine counts of murder.
On April 18, 2008, Helen Golay, (78), from Santa Monica and Olga Rutterschmidt, (75), from Hollywood, California, were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. When you’re almost 80, serving life doesn’t seem like forever, you know? You wonder, how did these grandmother-looking women get away with it for four months? No one would suspect such bad behavior coming from women who look so demure and kind.
After an arduous workout, Mary Heimsmith (Susan Damante ) and long-time friend Duscha (Cheryl David) return to Mary’s apartment to relax with some icy Long Island Iced teas. As they enjoy imbibing their well-made elixirs, a strange man with a walker comes out. Mary introduces her son-in-law Ned (Kevin Dulude) to Duscha. She’s embarrassed to say that her daughter abandoned her husband. Mary has the refrigerator padlocked so Ned won’t eat all of their food. Money is tight.
As a collaborative effort, the two women figure out how to make extra money. Social security isn’t doing its job and they need more funds since their husbands died living behind more debt. The answer arrives wearing rubber gloves while holding a brush and comb. Duscha’s hairdresser Geoffrey (Dulude playing a dual role so amusing) spills the tea during a shampoo how Duscha and Mary can make money by filing insurance policies and collect money. Sounds easy but Geoffrey says the process takes about 2 years. Mary’s quick mind goes to work. She figures if they send in multiple polices the money will arrive sooner. Duscha instantly becomes interested when Mary reveals they could get up to $1,000,000.
The women can’t wait the two years. They decide to stage hit and run “accidents” in order to cash in. A checklist takes shape. They choose homeless men with no family connections and they must be in serious, poor health. After a successful test run, the checks stack up like bricks. Everything goes well until it doesn’t. And then the cash flow suddenly stops and the problems begin.
Writer John Strysik does an excellent job in combining death and humor without making it appear as a huge joke. Yes, it’s death. Yes, people die. However, something, somewhere in that delicate web of decorum, there’s a little bit of humor trying to come out without taking away the seriousness of the situation. Damante and David make a great team. They feed off each other’s energy creating a magnificent duo who complement each other. They prove the female comedy duos are just as valid, or even more so than the male counterparts. It’s all about the funny. And Strysik does and admirable job of conveying it with style and class.
Death, with Benefits, plays now until Sunday, February 20th. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at Theatre 40, located at 241 S. Moreno Drive, inside the Beverly Hills High School. Tickets are $35 available by reservation 310-364-0535 or log on to www.theatre40.org.