By Alec Clayton
Strap in for Murder for Two at Harlequin Productions, 90 minutes of mayhem and laughter — not to mention singing and a lot of amazing hijinks on the piano. With book and music by Joe Kinosian, book and lyrics by Kellen Blair and direction by Corey McDaniel, this musical spoof of an old-fashioned murder mystery was a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Musical winner and nominated for a Drama Desk Award, Drama League Award and Outer Critics Circle Award.
Two actors, Jon Lutyens and Katherine Strohmaier, play more than 13 characters in a tour-de-force escapade for both.
Small-town police officer Marcus Moscowicz (Strohmaier) dreams of making detective, and the murder of great American novelist Arthur Whitney provides Moscowicz with an opportunity to prove his mettle while the real detective is unavailable. His challenge: to solve the crime in approximately an hour before said detective arrives.
The murder happened at a surprise birthday party for the writer, and the party guests are still in the house. One of them is the murderer (of course).
Lutyens plays every one of the suspects: the victim’s wife, a Southern diva if there ever was one; a prima ballerina; a psychiatrist and more — even three young boys in a boys’ choir. There are rapid-fire switches between characters with mind-boggling changes in voice, accent, physicality, costume and props. It is hard to keep up with all the changes, but that hardly matters. Those who sometimes aren’t sure which character is speaking can just enjoy the humor. In a split second it’ll be a different character.
Lutyen’s acting is astounding and hilarious. Strohmaier’s acting and singing are outstanding; she’s a concert vocalist who’s sung with Seattle Symphony and Opéra de Rennes in France. Both Lutyen and Strohmaier play piano, often duetting with rapid changes of hands and positions on the piano bench.
The fourth wall is shattered from the opening scene, at times to the point of begging the audience for help.
The set and lighting designs are stunning. A stagehand behind the scenes opens and closes an upstage door with perfect timing when needed.
Murder for Two runs 90 minutes with no intermission. It’ll likely join such modern classics as Noises Off and The 39 Steps in the pantheon of comedic plays.
Masking and proof of vaccination remain in place throughout the run of Murder for Two.
Gail Ramsey Wharton’s Collage Art
During the run of Murder for Two, the Harlequin lobby will be filled with collage art by Gail Ramsey Wharton.
Both a prolific artist and poet and a retired marriage, child and family therapist, Wharton comes from Berkeley, Calif., and has lived in Lacey since 2001. Her much-loved collages have been praised as mysterious, inventive, beautiful and filled with dark humor. They display a penchant for wordplay and visual puns. In any Wharton collage there’s much more to see than meets the eye. For example, When I Grow Too Old to Dream pictures a seated man in his underwear and a standing man wearing an open shirt, his hand on the seated man’s head. What goes unnoticed without careful inspection is that the standing man is missing an arm and there’s an upside-down word, “Benascouisca,” that’s either an extremely obscure word or not a real word at all.
Few of Wharton’s collages look like collages, but rather like prints or drawings of a type common in advertisements of an earlier era. Heads tend to be too large for bodies. She doesn’t just cut and paste images, she draws and paints back into them, even sandpapers the images — a technique the great collagist Ray Johnson used — often using heavy outlines.
Red Thread pictures string between two hands, the red thread being an actual thread. This one resonates with the drawn thread in Cat’s Cradle, which depicts two gray-faced women with long necks, one of them making the thread object of the title.
Chat Heureux is a picture of a strangely distorted cat that looks like it’s been skinned and stretched across a roughly textured surface — perhaps pinned to a wall like a specimen.
There are 25 of these intriguing, thought-provoking collages. Patrons should be sure to arrive at the theater early enough to study them. The collages are for sale, but no prices are posted. Anyone wanting to purchase one should inquire at the bar.
Kudos to Lynette Charters Serembe for curating this show.
Murder for Two
7:30 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays;
2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 2
Harlequin Productions at the State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
$25-$42, with half-price rush tickets at the door 30 minutes before curtain;
pay-what-you-choose performances 2 p.m. March 19, 25 and 31