‘Cross Words’ pits a greedy couple against an elderly aunt with a surprise twist

Now playing at Aurora’s Vintage Theatre, Cross Words is billed as something of a thriller (it won the 2019 Mystery Suspense Thriller New Play Showcase). But it’s more a comedy about murder, which appealed to me even more.

Flora (Molly Turner) and Tim (Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry) are a married couple, both actors, who have given up their lives on stage to care for Tim’s ailing Aunt Rosamund. It was supposed to be for a matter of months, but Aunt Rosamund doesn’t seem to be dying anytime soon, and her constant demands are driving them crazy. One day as they are complaining about her, the conversation turns to how they might possibly hasten her demise.

It’s all just speculation, of course — until it isn’t.

They hatch a plan to have a credible witness, Aunt Rosamund’s attorney Clarissa (Jan Cleveland), observe the unhappy “accident.” If it all goes according to plan, Tim and Flora could stand to inherit a fortune.

But will it go to plan?

Of course not. But it was surprising enough that I did not guess the ending (and neither did the couple seated beside me, who were pretty sure they had figured it out). There are only four players here (the other is Elton Tanega as Emory, a delivery boy with disabilities). Aunt Rosamund is an offstage presence only felt in mimicry and in the sound of the bell she rings when she wants something. With such a lean cast, every role is crucial to the plot.

The best thing about Cross Words is that it sets out to make you laugh — and succeeds. One scene in particular had the crowd rolling: Tim and Flora pushing a beach ball down the stairs, pretending it’s a dead woman. And Tim and Flora’s initiation of what someone should sound like as they fall down the stairs is laugh-out-loud funny.

Like many a thriller, the pacing of the show is a bit slower in the first act than the second. The characters — and the actors who play them — have something of an everyman quality about them, with their whiny complaints about Aunt Rosamund likely striking a chord with anyone who’s had to endure an annoying relative.

It’s not always clear who we should be rooting for. Should we want Aunt Rosamund to be bumped off? And for the perpetrators to get away with it? Maybe not, but maybe she should quit being so picky about the temperature of her toast and fix some of those leaks in the roof.

Vintage Theatre suggests a PG-13 rating for this one, which feels about right. Some of the humor is a little more adult, but I think teens even mature preteens would probably find this funny too. It was for me a fun night out well worth my time.

As with other Vintage productions, you can buy “Aunt Rosamund’s” furniture after the production ends. I’m not sure if they are selling the beachball/dead woman … but you could always ask.