Are lightweight black comedies making a comeback? Possibly, if you look to "Murderers," now on the boards at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Jeffrey Hatcher's breezy 1995 play...
Are lightweight black comedies making a comeback? Possibly, if you look to “Murderers,” now on the boards at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s breezy 1995 play conjoins two popular genres. One is the old-school, where-when-how murder mystery. The other is the monologue play, in which a single actor delivers the whole story.
There are actually three actors in “Murderers,” playing characters within an upscale senior retirement and golfing community in Florida, loftily named Riddle Key Estates.
Solo and in turn, each offers a singular, jolly confession of a diabolical murder scheme — executed for revenge, for money or in one case, just to rid the earth of some unpleasant people.
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“Murderers” is what used to be called a “comic trifle.” It’s far less disturbing or sociologically probing than, say, “Bash,” Neil Labute’s triptych of darkly twisted monologues.
In fact, it is about as substantial as a somewhat droll, cleverly plotted and evanescent episode of an old TV murder mystery series like “Columbo” — one of the many 1970s-and-earlier pop phenoms Hatcher’s script mentions in passing.
Smoothly mounted by director Steven Dietz on an attractive palm-tree and ocean-view set by Carey Wong, the single-act, three-part show sports able performances by Mark Anders and Joan Porter Hollander, and an outstanding one by Sarah Rudinoff.
First the formally attired, irony-attuned Gerald (Anders) informs us of his arranged marriage with the elderly mother of his longtime girlfriend.
The pact, agreed upon for financial reasons, goes awry — due to an unexpected surge of emotion, the interference of another “gigolo,” the federal tax code. The ever-graceful Anders slips easily between several roles (and generations) here, as the tale reaches its final neat twist.
The second monologue has a dash more psychological substance and resonance — and a more convoluted plot, in which drugstore visits play a key part.
Lucy (Hollander), a peppy woman in her 70s, recounts her surprise when a notorious gal who had an extramarital affair with her husband (and a lot of other husbands) moves into the Riddle Keys community.
As Lucy maps out her revenge on this femme fatale, she also betrays the long-lingering hurt and anger of an insecure, ever-compromising wife still pining for her distracted hubby’s affection and loyalty — a wife who “overcompensates in the Doris Day department.”
The slightest but funniest chapter of “Murderers” is the final segment, with Rudinoff’s genial, homicidal Minka Lupino (the name nods to film-noir queen Ida Lupino).
A bustling, amiable staffer at Riddle Keys, Minka is also a murder-mystery addict whose favorite author moves into the complex. Emboldened by his books, and appalled by callous treatment of the elderly by children and realtors, Minka becomes a righteous avenger.
Killing can be habit-forming, she confides, because “you do it once, it just gets easier and easier — like bicycle riding or sex.”
Though the play’s heavy sprinkling of retro pop-cultural references don’t always elicit laughs (maybe a program key should explain who Greer Garson and Rose Marie were, not to mention Marcus Welby, M.D.), Rudinoff has a blithe, perky way with her one-liners that keeps the laughs rolling.
For after all, “Murderers” is indeed a light comedy, a kinkier “Murder, She Wrote” crossed with “The Golden Girls.” And when its mysteries are resolved, and the 90 minutes are up, the play leaves hardly a fingerprint or trace of blood behind.
Misha Berson: email@example.com