Ki­nosian’s ‘Mur­der for Two’ is merry mu­si­cal may­hem for all

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - GREEN SHEET - Mike Fis­cher

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.

MICHAEL BROSILOW

Matt Ed­monds and Wauwatosa na­tive Joe Ki­nosian star in the mu­si­cal "Mur­der for Two" at the Milwaukee Reper­tory Theater's Stack­ner Cabaret.

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