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“The Art of Murder” is a grand killing

Review July 25, 2015 David Kiley

Article:10026; Posted: July 25, 2015 at 1:00 p.m.

“Just one more thing,” is a phrase made iconic by actor Peter Falk in his Columbo TV detective character. In “The Art of Murder,” at The Williamston Theatre, there are no trench coats or police for that matter, but the taut, funny murder yarn always seems to have one more thing…one more twist to keep the audience guessing.

“The Art of Murder,” a play by Joe DiPietro, who is perhaps best known for penning “Memphis” and the book and lyrics for “I love you, you’re perfect, now change,” had its first run in 2000. The plot seems heavily influenced by the real-life story of painter Margaret Keane, whose story about her and her slick, marketing-driven husband who secretly took credit for her work, was depicted in the 2014 film “Big Eyes.” DiPietro’s play focuses on Jack Brooks (Wayne David Parker), a bombastic artist who is taking credit for paintings create by his wife Annie (Robin Lewis-Bedz). Murder was not a part of the Keane’s real story, but it is an overlay to the play here that gives the tale a compelling arc that has audience members laughing and arching eyebrows throughout.

We’ll not dish out any plot spoilers here. Parker, as the overbearing, lecherous, misogynistic Jack hurls his bantam-weight bathing-suit-and-robe clad figure all over the theatre deftly, propelling his character and mixing meanness with humor. He reminds this reviewer a bit of a 1970s Mel Brooks, though able to showcase darker shades of mean and evil here in between the giggle lines. Lewis-Bedz had me worried a bit at the start of the play as her milquetoast quality seemed like lack of stage energy, and I just wasn’t buying her as the wife of Jack. But then it becomes clear that Jack’s love has everything to do with her brush-strokes rather than her wiles as a woman. And Lewis-Bedz, in fact, evolves her character just right for the story and nails the character’s submissive nature turned into deviousness and then self-confidence.

Dave Davies as Vincent, Brooks’ art dealer, is a treat to watch and listen to. He is flamboyant without too much butter and lavender. His performance is layered, as it needs to be, as no one in this story is quite what they seem when you first meet them. Julia Garlotte as Kate, the Irish housekeeper, is a bit of walk-in/walk-out character, but she ends up playing a pivotal role to the conclusion. She is nicely salty in places, and her Irish accent was nicely authentic.

“The Art of Murder” is a tidy, taut story, and something of a theatrical bon-bon. So, enjoy. Though there is no eating allowed inside the theater. Director Tobin Hissong orchestrates a very clean, tight production and very strong performances from an extremely well-cast group of actors. Set design by Bartley H. Bauer and sound design by Quintessa Gallinat accent the production nicely. The set is one room of a very large house, and it comes across that way very nicely through the clever use of sound and speakers and an intercom system in the house, rather than it feeling like a room floating in space.

If you like a good Sherlock Holmes story, or “Columbo,” then there is no reason not to like this very strong production. Being in the middle of this three-dimensional murder just the place to be.

SHOW DETAILS:
The Art of Murder
Williamston Theatre
122 S. Putnam St., Williamston
July 16–August 23, 2015; Thursday-Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
$22-$27 with discounts available for seniors, students and military
517-655-SHOW
www.williamstontheatre.org

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