Regional Reviews: Seattle
Murder for Two
About a dozen or so characters (plus some invisible ones) who figure in the oh-so-familiar plot were plucked from every Agatha Christie novel or Sherlock Holmes saga you think you've read or seen before, and not just the good ones. That worked well in Neil Simon's film comedy Murder by Deaththough, granted, he also had the talents of every other star comic actor in Hollywood to deliver his jokesbut I am not beyond calling out a stereotype when I see one, and a cliché ridden one at that.
Kinosian and Blair's murder victim, a rich and famous novelist who relished exposing his friends' dirty little secrets and peccadillos in his books, clearly deserved what was coming to him, be it a shot in the head, a knife in the gut, or a poisoned cup of tea, depending on who happens to be telling the story. Still, everyone at his wake-cum-pizza party has a motive, and it's up to young Officer Marcus to determine whodunit. Mega-talented musician Chris DeStefano slays on the greater number of numbers he must play, does well in the role of the sweet, bumbling aspiring Detective he enacts, and has a fine vocal instrument as well. The real heavy lifting in this joyless frenetic farce, unevenly directed and scarcely choreographed by Daniel Knechtges, is stalwart Seattle comic pro Richard Gray. The pairing of Gray and Stefano and their skill at wringing some big laughs out of a molehill is what saved the production for me.
There is no mistaking any of the characters Gray essays. My favorites are Barette Lewis, a quirky ballerina always making sure she is en pointe; Dahlia, the deceased's widow who sounds like a cross between Truman Capote (whom Gray needs to play) and quirky comic Leslie Jordan; as well as his hysterical enactment of a 12-member boys choir, headed by a lad named Timmy, who may be a relative to Patty McCormack's Rhoda in The Bad Seed. Gray and DiStefano also amaze with their piano duets, which allow them to shine together as keyboard masters and give them and us a respite from the frantic frolics of the book scenes. The Kinosian/Blair tunestack is at best meh and at worst blah, and I might have trouble guessing what show a song was from if I heard it again.
A strong standing ovation from me on the tech side of the show, however. Particularly, Carey Wong's old dark mansion with references to the Bates Motel (Hark, do I see a woman's figure in the window?, which gets the spoofery across funnier and more succinctly than the lines). Rick Paulsen's moody, murky lighting is the perfect complement to the set, and outstanding are Harmony Arnold's detailed and presumably rip-away costumes, which Gray changes in and out of like a roadrunner.
It is important to say that opening night and later audiences, let alone other local critics, seem to be thrilled with this show. To me, it's as I imagine it was when Eve Arden opened and closed in a one night only legendary Broadway flop of a murder mystery mash-up called Moose Murdersa terrible disappointment.
Murder for Two runs through June 11, 2017, at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street in downtown Seattle. For single tickets starting at $49 (starting at $15 for students) and information, please visit www.acttheatre.org or call the ACT Box Office at (206) 292-7676.