“Murder For Two” kills at Farmers Alley
KALAMAZOO, Mich.–Sometimes what sounds like a terrible idea turns out to be pretty wonderful. A musical murder mystery featuring more than a dozen characters but only two actors and a singular piano with dueling players is the stuff of nightmares for this critic, reminiscent of bad late-night bars, dinner theatre experiences and high school forensics competitions.
But at its best, theatre going is about delightful surprises, and this is exactly what Farmers Alley presents in their production of Murder for Two in collaboration with Kalamazoo’s Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.
The great American novelist Arthur Whitney has been murdered at his own surprise birthday party, and everyone at the mansion has real motive to have pulled the trigger that shot him in the forehead. Was it his wife, Dahlia, resentful for having given up a stage career for him? Barrett Lewis, his sinister ballerina mistress? The town psychiatrist, Dr. Griff, who has dirt on everyone in the room? What about Steph, his annoyingly inquisitive niece, at work on her college thesis about how to assist in solving a murder? Or one of the hard-knock members of the boys’ choir that randomly emerges? Could it even be the earnest almost-detective Officer Marcus Moscowicz himself?
Anything is possible in this high-octane, madcap, vaudevillian, award-winning comedy. And what keeps the audience on the edge of their seats isn’t finding out whodunnit so much as the anticipation of what the two extraordinary actors creating the fun will do next.
Joe Kinosian plays all the suspects with great dexterity, grace, and sass. He creates distinct, hilarious characters by using a single prop for each and transforming his voice and body, especially his face. His range is astonishing, his talent beyond imagination, and his intimacy with these characters born of having co-written the script. The sweat he must wipe from his brow throughout the 90-minute performance is well earned.
Brett Ryback (though he only plays the one character) Officer Marcus Moscowicz, works just as hard and appears to be having at least as much fun. Marcus’s adherence to protocol and need for a partner (in life, on the job) give the show its emotional stakes and musical reprise. Ryback originated the role Off-Broadway, and his comfort and ease with this character shows. He is downright adorable. Together, he and Kinosian fill the space with the energy of dozens of actors and are completely in command of this hilarious and chaotic show. Their chemistry is electric and they connect with the audience, at times pulling members out of their seats, into the drama, and onto the stage.
They are both terrific singers and also masterful piano players, who, at turns, accompany each other on the giant grand piano center stage, the only real set piece, and sometimes themselves. At times, it’s sung through, and at other times the music establishes mood and presents background to quick-changing scenes.
This production also has the benefit of direction from J. Scott Lapp, who worked on the show’s initial runs in New York City, and will soon be bringing it to Japan for its Asia premiere. With these well-seasoned actors, he brings to fruition an unbelievably tight show that defies expectation.