Kinosian’s ‘Murder for Two’ is merry musical mayhem for all
The first clue to solving the mystery of Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian’s “Murder for Two” – the screwball spoof of old-time thrillers now on stage at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater – comes even before the startling thunderclap introducing this light and silly night.
That clue is an onstage dollhouse model of one of those sprawling country houses where Agatha Christie gathered her sad collections of loners – each one unleashing long-hidden psychic monsters, in a world where a crumbling social order could no longer keep such beasts at bay.
Cut Christie and her vanishing world down to dollhouse size and what’s left is madcap mayhem, involving a cross between Christie contemporaries Preston Sturges and the Marx Brothers, framed as a musical melodrama blending the English music hall with ragtime. And a dash of diva disco.
So yes: “Murder” begins with a murder, as a shot in the dark takes down a bestselling author at his own surprise birthday party.
But as Kinosian introduces us to the usual suspects — he plays them all, while teaming with playmate Matt Edmonds for some dazzling, key-tickling piano accompaniment – it’s clear that this high-octane farce is more about making us laugh at these suspects’ quirks than analyzing who they are.
The suspects aren’t so much separate people as a collection of the multiple, attention-starved selves of a single hopelessly fractured personality.
They include Arthur’s wife, a southern belle who makes Blanche DuBois look like a shrinking violet.
There’s a creepy shrink who’s prone to blab his patient’s secrets. A bitterly squabbling married couple. A constantly posing ballerina who doubles as a femme fatale from the Thin Man movies. Three street urchins – think the Dead End Kids – who’ve not only survived a life on the streets, but a performance of “Mamma Mia.”
Finally, there’s a would-be Girl Friday writing a graduate thesis titled “How to Assist in the Solving of a Small-Town Murder.” She’s intent on restoring this mad world to sanity by becoming partners with Edmonds’ Marcus Moscowicz, a wannabe detective and first-rate straight man.
Marcus is wrestling with his own personality disorder involving an imaginary friend, but he’s got nothing on the motley crew played by Kinosian.
Forget murder spoofs such as “The Mystery of Irma Vep.” Here, Kinosian embodies multiple suspects with nary a costume change and only a few props. This is prodigiously energetic, pure-bred physical comedy bolstered by some terrific showmanship at the piano, delivered at a breakneck pace under JC Clementz’s direction.
That warp speed allows us to overlook patches in the script that are less clever than frenetic or just plain dumb. And before we grow restive at a piece that jumps the shark, we’ve arrived at a splendid four-handed piano encore paying homage to the Marx Brothers. Harpo and Chico would have killed for it.
“Murder for Two” continues through Jan. 14 at the Stackner Cabaret, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets, visit www.milwaukeerep.com or call (414) 224-9490. Read more about this production at TapMilwaukee.com.
Matt Edmonds and Wauwatosa native Joe Kinosian star in the musical "Murder for Two" at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's Stackner Cabaret.