Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Murder for Two
With so little weight, one might worry that too much applause will blow the whole enterprise off the stage. At the start, Murder for Two has the feel of a sketch comedy, amusing but not amounting to much. And yet, by the end, applause comes in a mighty wave, as the two actorsboth highly energetic, likable, and talentedadroit director, witty book (Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair), and tuneful score (music by Kinosian, lyrics by Blair) pull off a caper as striking as the murder in question, creating a bonafide, first rate entertainment.
The plot follows familiar lines. It is playwright Arthur Whitney's birthday, and his wife Dahlia has planned a surprise party. The guests arrive and hide, and at the fateful moment, amid hollers of "surprise!," gunshots end Mr. Whitney's life. All of the guestsbickering neighbors Murray and Barb Flandon, ballet diva Barrette Lewis, Arthur's niece Steph Whitney, his psychiatrist Dr. Griff, and Mrs. Whitney herself, and a few others who pop out of nowhereare suspected of doing the grisly deed.
The police department sends Officer Marcus Moscowicz and his unseen partner Lou to keep the suspects on the scene for an hour or so until Detective Grayson can get there. Marcus yearns to achieve the rank of detective and, seizing the opportunity, assumes that role. He reviews the evidence and questions the suspects, determined to solve the case before Grayson shows up. Surely, headquarters will be so impressed by his sharp mind and skilled dispatch of the case, that a promotion to detective will be guaranteed. Any guesses how this will end up?
Back to the two actors who play all these roles. One of the actors, Nic Delcambre, plays the wannabe detective Marcus Moscowicz for the entirety of the show. That leaves the other, Andrea Wollenberg, to play all ten of the suspects. This is accomplished with changes in voice, posture and gait, and the slightest of costume effects to tell them apart: a fur collar for Mrs. Whitney, a derby for Murray Flandon, a bow added to the derby for Barb Flandon, a long silky scarf for Barrette Lewis, nerdy green eyeglasses for Steph Whitney (a graduate student in criminology, her thesis topic being "How to Assist in Solving a Small Town Murder"), and a false nose with eyeglasses and mustache attached for the good Doctor Griff. These changes occur with lightning speed, sometimes mid-sentence.
And why bear the expense of a pianist, when you can have the two actors switch off, playing piano for one another, better yet, squeezing together onto the piano bench and paying duets? As with the switches in character, Mr. Delcambre and Ms. Wollenberg switch places on the piano bench at a dazzling pace, never dropping a chord or missing a beat. The very playfulness in all of this is entertainment enough, so who cares if the story is lacking, or the tunes are treacly. Imagine how happily surprised we are then, to find that, in the course of Murder for Two's 90 minutes, a plot of some wit and invention unfolds, and that the score includes some memorable songs.
Andrea Wollenberg works tirelessly and seamlessly, popping in and out of these characters. True, all are caricatures, none etched with any depth, but each is presented with a distinct tone and with great good-natured humor. To add to the fun, Wollenberg sings each part with the necessary range of voices, her naturally beautiful voice coming most clearly heard as Steph, the closest the show has to a heroine. Though Nic Delcambre has the luxury of playing the same character throughout the show, he too works hard, playing out his own part and also being straight man to Ms. Wollenberg's fun-house of types. Delcambre also displays comic aplomb and a winning voice, well suited for this male-ingénue role.
These two terrific performers gave director Randy Reyes a huge head start. Reyes took the advantage home, moving the show at a quick pace so that the transitions and surprises are always a stepbut just a stepahead of the audience. While falling too far behind would be annoying, the game of trying to stay abreast of every twist and turn in character and plot has the exhilaration of a child's game of tag played with well-matched mates.
Costume and set design are both kept very simple, as befits the proceedings, while light and sound cuesthe latter including such plot devices as doorbells, gunshots, thunderclaps, and ringing phonesadroitly assist the storytelling. One unfortunate aspect of the set, noted before on the Boss Thrust Stage, is obscuring some of the action. In my case, a cabinet blocked my view of a dancethe lone dance, in factperformed by a character on his knees, which, based on the laughs coming from the part of the house that had a clear view, was greatly amusing.
That bit of annoyance aside, Murder for Two is a great time in the theater for those who enjoy combinations of murder mysteries, lighthearted musical comedies, and great performances. There is nothing particularly deep or probing on stage (for that, go to the other of Park Square's stages and see the stirring Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue) but as a cheery antidote for the heavier fare, Murder for Two offers abundant entertainment with hearty laughter, impressive musicianship and jaunty tunes.
Murder for Two continues at Park Square Theatre's Andy Boss Thrust Stage through November 1, 2015. 20 West Seventh Place, Saint Paul, MN, 55102. Tickets: $40.00 60.00; under age 30, "Pay What You Will Wednesday" performances, sliding scale $15.00 $35.00, general admission. A $2.00 facility fee will be added to each ticket. For tickets call 651-291-7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org.
Book and Music: Joe Kinosian; Book and Lyrics: Kellen Blair; Director: Randy Reyes; Music Director: Stephen Houtz; Scenic Design: Sarah Brandner; Costume Design: Aaron Chvatal; Lighting Design: Michael P. KIttel; Sound Design: Anita Kelling; Property Design: Sadie Ward; Stage Manager: Jamie J. Kranz.
Cast: Nic Delcambre (Marcus Moscowicz), Andrea Wollenberg (The Suspects)