If you don’t think that a 90-minute farce with a tiny cast can be as entertaining as a full-scale musical comedy, then you obviously haven’t seen the Lyric Repertory Company’s current production of Murder for Two.
At first glance, Murder for Two seems like a simple show to stage. All you need is a garden-variety drawing room set, a baby grand piano and two actors. Oh, did I mention that the actors have to be able to sing, dance, play the piano, portray 13 separate characters and be absolutely, totally uninhibited?
Director Richie Call somehow found two such theatrical unicorns in Eric Shorey and Eric Van Tielen. Both Shorey and Van Tielen were great in the Lyric’s production of Mama Mia earlier this season. But -- good as it was -- Mama Mia can’t hold a candle to Murder for Two as a showcase for these actors’ talents.
As its name implies, Murder for Two is a take-off on those traditional locked-room murder mystery plays -- like the kind Agatha Christie might have written if she were funny, musical and a little bit androgynous. Which she wasn’t. Too bad, eh? Because Murder for Two is a lot more fun than And Then There Were None.
I don’t know where playwrights Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair got the idea for this wacky whodunit, but I can’t imagine anyone performing the play better than Shorey and Van Tielen.
As Marcus Moscowicz, Van Tielen plays an inept beat cop with delusions of being a detective who stumbles over the murder of a prominent author at his own birthday party. A la Dame Christie, the murderer has to be one of the party guests, right?
Shorey does the heavy lifting in Murder for Two; he gets to portray all 12 of the murder suspects who come in a wide variety of ages and genders. Shorey does it all without costume changes, relying instead on rapid-fire shifts of voices and mannerisms to clearly identify each of the potential perpetrators. The characterizations aren’t deep, of course; there isn’t time for that and this isn’t Death of a Salesman after all.
Murder for Two isn’t just a clever farce, however. It’s also a musical. But Shorey and Van Tielen aren’t supported by an orchestra or recorded music; they don’t even rate a four-piece combo. The actors beat out the show’s witty original score on the piano, trading the roles of pianist and vocalist throughout the evening.
The Lyric’s production of Murder for Two works brilliantly because Shorey and Van Tielen are so incredibly versatile. Any competent actor can develop a characterization and perform it on stage. But Murder for Two demands a whole range of skills different– the ability to change characters at the drop of a hat, to adopt subtle variations of movement and posture, to lampoon various stereotypes and to perform distinctively zany vocal impressions. The audience left the performance I saw marveling at the talent that Shorey and Van Tielen had displayed. So did I.
Murder for Two is the kind of show that actors tend to dedicate themselves to for months or years in order to fully meet its challenges. That even Equity professionals like Shorey and Van Tielen can deliver performances of this caliber in a repertory format is another real measure of their talent.
Additional performances of Murder for Two are slated at the Caine Lyric Theatre in downtown Logan through Aug. 3. For ticket information, visit LYRICREP.ORG.