Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Complex Love and Murder at New Jersey Rep
Also see Bob's review of Falsettos
All the plot elements for such a mystery are in place here, and we are nicely misdirected from a tricky and clever surprise ending. However, author Arthur Giron and his accomplices in this endeavor have something more unconventional in mind. There are clues to this in the opening monologue delivered by Native American Deputy Sheriff Thomas Swamp Cree (who is most often addressed to as "Blackie"). The first scene following the monologue reveals an odd set for the home of a rich, small town power broker and his wife. It is designed as a series of overlapping hangings of large, grey, I would think Indian rugs or blankets. You, my sharp readers, would probably by this point have discerned that something thematically complex has been set in motion. However, although I found this design very unsettling, I must admit that it took me a while longer to realize that Love and Murder is a mythological, anthropological fable set in a fantasyland existing outside of time and space.
The stated location is Jefferson County in the far northwest corner of New York. The time is 1967. For the past four or five years, middle-aged Dr. Tuttle, who previously had not had any romantic relationships, has been married to former singer Tex, a fading, over the hill, flashy, bleached blonde. Tex only married the stolid Tuttle for the shelter of his money. Their maid Helen, a Mayan from Guatemala, had been an exchange student, but has remained illegally in New York. Blackie makes love to Tex ("my tribe doesn't recognize borders"). When Tuttle discovers that Tex has been telling Helen that she saves her salary for her in a bank account, but has actually been spending it frivolously on herself, Tuttle becomes angry at Tex for her mistreatment of Helen. Tex responds by informing Tuttle that she truly despises him. Helen seduces Tuttle, who finds succor in the arms. She becomes pregnant. Tuttle now loves Helen, and is determined to protect her and their unborn child. Absurdist humor abounds in the form of odd occurrences. One example is when the intoxicated Tuttle dresses in a fancy dress uniform and flagellates himself for his assignation with Helen.
Most crucially, we are not in any real time or place. We are in a time warp which has preserved the natural laws which existed before European presence in the Americas. Author Arthur Giron posits a primal side of nature which will always seek that the land be restored to its native population. All of this is quite stimulating and engages the intellect. It also inherently reduces the taut suspense and easy pleasure for which conventional light mysteries strive.
The ominous mood created by director Peter Bennett employs sound and lighting most effectively. Liz Zazzi (Tex) daringly throws caution to the wind to present us with a ripley entertaining, over the top floozy. John FitzGibbon convincingly details Tuttle's transition from pompous bully to loving incipient father and ...." Well, therein lies the tale, and we wouldn't want to give it away.
Guenia Lamos strongly projects Helen's anger and sincerity. Whether or not Helen deserves our belief, Lamos appropriately makes certain that she gets it. Dan Domingues (Blackie) efficiently conveys the smooth veneer of Blackie.
The complex mixture of elements does not always blend together smoothly. Still, in all, Love and Murder is an intriguing blend of absurdist humor, mystery and anthropologic philosophy which will hold your interest throughout.
Love and Murdercontinues performances (Eves: Thurs, - Sat. 8 p.m./ Mats. Sat. 3 p.m. Sun. 2 p.m.) through May 6, 2007 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, Lumia Theatre , 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.
Love and Murder by Arthur Giron; directed by Peter Bennett