“Murder for Two” – A So-So Spoof of Agatha Christie

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murder for two 3By Karen Isaacs

Murder For Two, now at Long Wharf through Aug. 30, has already toured extensively and has run off-Broadway.  But no matter how you slice it, this musical murder mystery is weak stuff.

The idea is promising.  Take a murder with a batch of suspects à la Agatha Christie, add in some music, two performers, and you are supposed to end up with a light hearted, froth of a spoof.

But spoof is a difficult genre. Too easily it can become leaden or obvious.

First of all, we have the murder.  A successful mystery writer is shot as he arrives at his surprise birthday party in his home.  Thus we have the requisite darkness.  An eclectic group have assembled, many from the rural community in which he lives and a few others.  Each detests the author and thus has a motive to kill him.  Apparently each had a secret revealed in one of his mysteries.

Among the suspects are the man’s wife, the local psychiatrist, an elderly neighbor couple, his daughter, a prima ballerina and others, including three members of a boys’ choir.

murder for two 2The murderer is totally unanticipated in the Agatha Christie mode.

To this has been added some pleasant but mostly forgettable music.

Plus, there is a gimmick.  Two performers play all the roles as well as provide the piano accompaniment.

Actually, one actor plays the policeman who is trying to solve the murder before the detective arrives.  The other actor plays all of the suspects.

Ian Lowe, (a Yale alum), plays the policeman, while Kyle Branzel gets to morph into all the suspects.

The actors must be applauded for hard work, if nothing else.  They are on the move for the entire 90 minutes.  They each play the piano, and Branzel must change voice, walk and mannerisms dozens of times as he plays all of the suspects.  Lowe must try to create a real character out of a mixture of characteristics as the policeman.

Branzel is more effective as the three female characters that have the largest parts in the play:  the widow, the daughter, and the ballerina.  He does manage to create  amusing sketches of these characters.

The problem are multiple.  First of all, while the Long Wharf Main Stage is not large (seating under 500), this is a show that probably works best in an even smaller space.  In addition the show has been staged toward the back of the Long Wharf space rather than coming out further into the apron which puts more distance between the audience and the performers.

Second is that the suspects change so quickly that it is often difficult to know who is speaking at any given moment.  This is particularly so because the characters often speak in fragments.  Some of the sound was also muffled.

A verdict:  this is silly with the second half funnier than the first.  It might be great for kids who like nonsense but there are a few possibly objectionable phrases in the script.  It would also seem a whole lot funnier after a cocktail or two.

There is also some irrelevant by play about cell phones ringing in the theater.  Once it was funny, twice it was amusing, after that it was annoying.

Murder for Two may be fun for those who would appreciate a spoof of the typical murder mystery set on a dark and stormy night in a remote house. But that spoof has been done better.

It is at Long Wharf Theater through Aug. 30.  For tickets visit longwharf.org.

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