Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven: For the first 20 minutes of Murder for Two, it looked as if the show was going to die a tiresome death. The ending couldn’t come soon enough. Surprisingly, once this two-actor romp finally got off the ground, it not only became a showpiece for two incredibly gifted actors, but it became downright entertaining.
It all starts with the introduction of zany characters waiting for a prominent novelist to enter what will be his surprise birthday party. Kyle Branzel and Ian Lowe play all the characters. Lowe is Officer Marcus, the detective, and Branzel plays all the suspects in what is a bona-fide musical murder mystery. The zaniness filled the theater with the delightful response of children’s laughter from the audience. Yes, this is a family event and the kids love the slapstick and goofy acting. Whether Branzel is exaggerating the persona of a long-legged graceful ballerina, playing a resentful wife or playing a hunched-back overly stern psychiatrist, his many characters never fail to please the youngsters in the audience, who may be more taken with the performance than the cleverly woven and intricate plot.
The adults get into it when the premise for the murder of novelist Arthur Whitney is revealed. Everyone at the party has a motive in Joe Kinosian’s and Kellen Blair’s creation. There are times when the two actors, who also accompany each other on the piano, are difficult to understand as they sing and run around. What really works well is when one actor plays part of a tune on the keyboard and steps away with an afterthought, the other actor picks up the melody without every missing a note in the song.
Therein is the prize component of this production. Special effects, perfect timing, sounds, lights — everything is synchronized to the most split second. When novelist Arthur Whitney enters the room, lights go out, a shot is fired and there lies Arthur, decidedly dead. Marcus gets the opportunity to prove that he can be a top-notch detective. Add to this fast-action frenzy and audience participation that includes Branzel stopping dead in his tracks as a cellphone goes off. That it happens to be Lowe’s cellphone is known only to the audience, which gets a good talking to about the evils of cellphones in a theater. At another point in this 80-minute – no intermission – frolic, a gentleman from the audience is brought onstage to play the role of the dead novelist.
Overall, the talent and flexibility of these two actors make the whole experience enjoyable. The murder mystery is solved, but there will be no spoilers here. The production plays at Long Wharf in New Haven through Aug. 30. Box office: 203-787-4282.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org