The Murder Room Slays Audiences, Hides the Bodies

the-murder-roomIt’s refreshing to see 2nd Story do something zany and offbeat. Given the severity of shows like The Exonerated and Amadeus, or even the gruff themes of pseudo-comedies like Lost in Yonkers and Cuckoo’s Nest, putting up a farce largely unknown to the casual theatergoer demonstrates a lighter side of 2nd Story. The Murder Room is a gut-busting parody of the murder-mystery genre, all the more appropriate in rep with Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap.

The affluent Edgar Hollister dons a fake pushbroom moustache in his smoking jacket. Immediately, a mysterious and beautiful woman enters and shoots Edgar to death. She’s Mavis Hollister and she can no longer tolerate the anguish of her arid marriage … which is one day old. 

The Murder Room follows Mavis’ futile attempts to collect the Hollister family fortune by murdering everyone around her. The police become involved after Edgar’s disappearance, prompting evidence such as a cat corpse and a pistol loaded with blanks. Mavis’ stepdaughter, Susan Hollister, arrives with her American fiancé, Barry Draper. The two remain oblivious to the circumstances surrounding Edgar’s disappearance and never suspect Mavis, even as she receives multiple phone calls from her mysterious “darling.” Mavis gets found out, is forgiven, and then she gets right back to murdering. Farce-tastic.

The comedic chops of this cast cannot be understated. Tim White is immediately likable as the exuberant Texan millionaire Barry Draper. Susan, played by Ashley Hunter Kenner, hysterically telegraphs her confusion to the audience with a litany of microexpressions, the kind of acting minutia that only actors appreciate. In tandem, White and Hunter Kenner play a delightful couple of young idiots. Susan Bowen Powers gets her share of yucks as housekeeper Lottie Molloy, the Scottish Madea.

As inspector James Crandall, Jeff Church goes for the jugular with his obnoxious Scottish accent, performing with undeniable comedic magnetism. Sharon Carpenter does her best Days of Our Lives as Mavis, completely delightful as her evil stepmother persona escalates with each successive costume change. And of course, Jim Sullivan accommodates the audience beautifully at the opening of the show with a hilarious death, worthy of applause.

The jokes in this show are half Who’s on First? and half Airplane! The dialogue is often circular, with the same point reiterated repeatedly, but differently, until some utterance makes the phrase funny. Wordplay is huge, though the witty humor balances out with the abundance of cheap gags.

2ndStoryMurderRoomKennerCarpentierEd Shea marathoned directorial duty for both Mousetrap and Murder Room. Mousetrap was articulate and craftful in its staging. Murder Room seemed more relaxed. And that’s great. With a parody like this, the jokes do the talking, not the lights or the blocking.

The real pleasure of this show comes from having seen The Mousetrap. Both Murder Room and Mousetrap use the same set, though Murder Room really emphasizes the Scooby Doo aspects — secret bookcase entrance, hidden stairwell and booby trapped portrait, to name a few.  That decidedly British tone is certainly present in both shows, though Murder Room, written by American Jack Sharkey, is certainly much more tongue-in-cheek with its deployment of British idioms and colloquialisms.

The Murder Room was the most fun I’ve had at a play in a while. Though I’m a sucker for dark dramatic comedies, I was delighted to see such a fantastic farce without any baggage. This show will put you in a good mood, and in this damp, sweltering prison of humidity we call summer in Rhode Island, a light comedy and a little air conditioning could do you good.