Been a while since I was last haunting the Gladstone Theatre walls (or at least it feels like it), and I certainly needed me some theatre last night, so a trip on down to see the latest from the community kids at Phoenix Players was just the ticket. The second week of their latest production, Ron Clark and Sam Bobricks’ MURDER AT THE HOWARD JOHNSON’S was just getting underway, and who isn’t game for some homicide-themed hijinks?
Directed by Tim Picotte, this threefold comedy stars Sasha Gilchrist as Arlene Miller, a flighty 70’s housewife looking to ditch her bland hubby Paul (Dan Desmarais) and shack up with lothario dentist extraordinaire Mitchell Lovell (Mike Schilder). Striking on murder as the best way to achieve this goal (because none of our three characters are particularly bright bulbs), a plot is concocted at the local HoJo’s to do the deed. Naturally, things go awry in comical fashion, and over the course of the play (spanning three separate holiday-themed criminal conspiracies) the alliances between the three protagonists shift and sway until it’s hard to figure out who wants to murder whom and why.
I was actually pretty pleasantly surprised at how laugh-out-loud funny MURDER got at times, and gotta say the Phoenix gang did a pretty sweet job with it. Gilchrist as the sensual but dim Arlene was good vapid fun (and kudos to costumer Anne Melrose for making her period outfits look so smashing), darting from one ill-timed piccadillo to the next in ridiculously high heels…how she stayed upright I’ll never know. Mike Schilder made for a wonderfully egocentric Mitchell, charming the audience handily even as he swooned over his reflection in the mirror. And Dan Desmarais really surprised Paul, a desperately bitter and hopelessly dull businessman on a slow burn to crazytown that turned into one of the finer comic elements of the whole show (the very funny script helped plenty too). The show was a little rough around the edges, okay, but had lotsa heart, a swell soundtrack, and plenty of laughs. And that’s just about exactly what I was hoping for. Nice job, gang, and we’ll see you next season for THE LAST OF JANE AUSTEN and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)