SCHEMERS Carpentier and Kenner. [Photo by Richard W. Dionne, Jr.]
On the one hand, it could be that murder mysteries cut down on the number of actual murders, vivid imaginations and the power of vicarious satisfaction being what they are. On the other hand, The Murder Room, by Jack Sharkey, the spoof being mordantly staged by 2nd Story Theatre (through September 1), might very well up the homicide stats around here for the summer. They make the practice look like such wicked fun.
The comedy is alternating with Agatha Christie’s classic The Mousetrap (under the title “Murder In Rep: Two Plays To Die For”), which epitomizes the genre under dissection here. It’s on the same parlor set, swirling snow outside the window replaced by an aerie view of meadow and woodland below, and with the identity of the haughty woman in the painting above the mantelpiece changed.
The silliness is signaled right off by a character adjusting a ridiculous wig and handlebar mustache. His false identity isn’t going to be saved for some transparent suspense; there’s plenty more plot propulsion going for it, briskly directed by Ed Shea, with several who’s-on-first exchanges to keep the laugh meter peaking.
We are at the home of Edgar and Mavis Hollister (mystery guest actor and Sharon Carpentier). The younger woman married the old man that very morning, and she seems inordinately upset that he fed the cat some hot cocoa she prepared for him — which we thereby imagine burbling with poison like a witch’s cauldron.
Edgar ticks off his grumbling suspicions of his wife’s lying about having just returned from church. She blithely chirps back outlandish excuses, all of which he abjectly accepts. No, no, how could the doting Mavis be a golddigger just returned from a tryst with her lover? “Are you blind or just incorrigibly stupid?” she asks her husband. “Are they the only choices I get?” he responds, but apparently not apologetically enough. “Bang! Bang! Bang!” she eventually replies with a revolver.
The next morning, Edgar’s daughter Susan (Ashley Hunter Kenner) returns home from a five-year absence at college in America (whose influence will be made fun of here and there). She is accompanied by a fiancé, Barry Draper (Tim White), and naturally he is a millionaire with a cowboy hat and Texas accent, since it is time for another cliché. She is not at all upset that her father is missing. At different times, Inspector James Crandall (Jeff Church) and Constable Abel Howard (Jim Sullivan) show up, in the professional hopes that foul play is involved. Every opportunity is taken to make fun of the oh-so-proper behavior of the English constabulary. Offered food, Howard says he never eats while on duty; but a drink? “Well — all right!”
Edgar had been seen on a bicycle following his cat, which shows up stiff as a board and with face frozen in alarm. Susan remains chipper about such grim turns of events (that American influence), but housekeeper Lottie Molloy (Susan Bowen Powers) makes up for that with argumentative suspicions about everything.