Richard Davis Jr. was striving for that Neil Simon touch for his latest play.
He started with an elderly, wealthy banker and his greedy relatives, added a burglar who pretends to be the banker's long-lost grandson, and set a lively pace with light, bright dialogue.
Sweet and simple.
But the Augusta State University English professor couldn't resist adding a dash of Evelyn Waugh's dark humor to the mix.
"In the process of writing a light comedy, I ended up killing off two people," he said.
The result is Everything's Relative, the latest production of the Augusta Players.
Sweet, this comedy is not.
There are murder plots and infidelities aplenty in this morally challenged family. Its members spend much of their stage time pondering ways to lie, cheat or steal their way into an early inheritance by sending the banker to a premature death.
A key cast member is Peg Kelly, a newcomer to Augusta who plays Callie, the greedy daughter-in-law. Callie, like other family members, will do anything to get the money.
In one darkly humored scene, she and her husband discuss whether hanging, shooting or poisoning is the best way to kill the old man.
"It's a wickedly funny play," Ms. Kelly said. "My only real concern is that (the lines) are so clever, the audience might not get them right away."
Everything's Relative runs this weekend in the Bon Air Apartments Ballroom. The Players are staging the comedy "in the round," with the audience seated around the small set. That makes for a more intimate play experience for audience members, but it's harder for the actors, who have to keep moving so they won't have their backs turned toward the crowd.
Mr. Davis, who co-directs with Augusta Players manager Jay Willis, wrote the play in less than a year. The comedy was the winner of the Augusta Players 1995 Original Playwriting Competition.
He wrote his first play 11 years ago. His 19 works have been staged in Augusta, Savannah and New York.
The playwright describes his adult material as "dark." Even in his lighter children's plays, he often mines the dark world of the Brothers Grimm.
Mr. Davis is trying out Everything's Relative in his home base in hopes of taking it off-Broadway in New York City. "I hope they'll be laughing while shaking they're heads in disbelief," he said.
What: Everything's Relative
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Bon Air Apart