Encore Michigan

It’s only a rib or two you’ll crack at Dio’s comedy mystery

Review February 03, 2020 Bridgette Redman

PINCKNEY, Michigan–Some things seem to go together. Motherhood and apple pie. Super Bowls and car ads. Baseball games and hot dogs. Dinner theater and murder mysteries.

So, who would be surprised to hear that DIO, now one of the most renowned dinner theaters in Michigan, is doing a murder mystery?

However, if you show up expecting to get the traditional murder mystery fare that has been the staple of the train circuit, you’re in for a surprise, a shock even. It’s Only Murder is not the sort of cliched, safe whodunnit that has been served up to audiences for more than a century. Instead, it is a raunchy, rowdy, thoroughly ludicrous romp that delivers up a feast full of laughter.

Sam Bobrick’s show is smart, outrageous, campy and eventually tears down the fourth wall to extend an invitation for you to join in the general mockery (but don’t worry, you won’t be asked whodunnit).

When the show first opens on the minimalist, modern set, you might start to have a few reservations about what you are seeing. You might, if you’re still expecting the traditional, even wonder if Director Steve DeBruyne has left off his senses and discarded all the skills he has shown over the years in directing award-winning shows in this Pinckney venue.

Actors Michael Bessom and Annabelle Young portray husband and wife Jerome and Francine Teppel. While Young’s Francine is charming and ditzy, Bessom at first seems to be mugging, to be a caricature more than a character.

But those worries will soon dissipate as the brilliance of both the direction and the acting of all the ensemble becomes apparent. It doesn’t take long to figure out exactly what Bessom is doing and that he is making perfect choices to create this comedy and prepare the audience for all that is to come.

In the course of the show, Bessom will play the perfect foil to two over-the-top women, his wife and his neighbor, Lenore Franklin, played by Molly Cunningham. The hapless CPA will eventually remind us of a cross between Peter Parker and Clark Kent but without their alter-ego superpowers.

He is introduced to us while he is freaking out about his new wife’s purchase of a hand gun. Young convincingly chatters away with flighty innocence that further maddens him and starts the set-up for a plot with so many twists and turns that it won’t even attempt to logically unravel. She’s certain that he will be happy to know that she has purchased a cemetery plot for him and has made plans to change his will.

The plot thickens the next day as Jerome and Lenore meet for lunch. While the focus might appear to be on the neighbor’s revelation of why Francine wants that hand gun, it’s more than just a distraction to watch Cunningham outdo even Young’s delightful performance as she rejects item after item on the lunch menu and establishes the personality of the cattish and overbearing Lenore that is going to make the rest of the show so much fun to watch.

If you haven’t caught on by now, It’s Only Murder is an uproarious comedy because of the outlandish, almost grotesque, characters, exchanges and over-the-top dialogue that never ceases to be fresh, witty and able to catch you off your guard.

The show is billed “an adult comedy mystery with a number of immature moments” and it is a disclaimer to be taken, well, not seriously, but accepted as an honest assessment. One wonders if Bobrick, who died in 2019 after a long career of writing for television and the stage (often for children and family shows) had been saving up a long list of synonyms for certain things he wasn’t allowed to use in his other shows. What would that be? I shan’t spoil the fun for you.

To say that all the characters have their quirks would be a bit of an understatement. They start out as stock characters—the suspicious husband, the possibly cheating wife, the nosy neighbor, and the hard-boiled noir detective (played by Dale Dobson). In each case, that is the canvas that Bobrick, DeBruyne and each of the performers start with before splashing with vibrant, clashing and often unexpected paint.

Dobson’s Sid Decker, for example, is the stereotypical detective except, we soon find out, he does NOT have the requisite heart of gold. He really is as scummy as appearances would let on.

Cunningham has a peevish monologue toward the end where she rails against all that is unfair—why, after all, should a multi-thousand dollar watch keep the same time as a really cheap watch? Shouldn’t the cheap watch keep time less well? Her rant seems to have nothing to do with the show while having everything to do with it and is one example of many of the way every choice is about what will entertain and take us to the wildest conclusion possible.

DeBruyne directs the show so that each reveal has its own build-up and even the show’s overall genre-busting is orchestrated beat by clever beat. He ensures that by the end, the show is simply a celebration for everyone.

As usual, Matt Tomich takes on the challenge of the Dio’s limited space and finds a creative solution to the demands of the script. As the set builder and set dresser, he figures out how to bring in just enough furnishings to create multiple locations and uses projections against the set’s black walls to move the action to more locales when necessary.

Costumer Norma Polk was able to put the actors in modern dress that helped to communicate changes in their economic status as the play progressed while Props Designer Eileen Obradovich found the appropriate collections of weaponry and sandwiches to frustrate and frighten poor Jerome.

“It’s Only Murder” promises to distract you from whatever stressors might be filling your life this February and instead give you an hour and 45 minutes of uncomplicated, ribald laughter, which is in itself a gift even more satisfying than the delicious meal.

Click here for show days, times and ticket info.

Week of 9/28/2020

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