We are going through a time of almost unbearable misery on a number of fronts in this country – Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Kim Jong Un, the Green Bay Packers.
The question of where, oh where can we turn for relief from all this stress, is an easy one to answer.
“Murder for Two” at the Milwaukee Rep is, without a doubt, the remedy for any stress that you might feel in your life. It’s the perfect cure for what ails you, except for the side effect of laughter while trying to drive home. Take an Uber.
This 100 minute journey into the more than slightly-skewed minds of Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair is the kind of silly trip that college students might have taken when they dropped acid, back when college students actually took acid.
The Stackner Cabaret opening night leapt to their feet at the conclusion of opening night’s performance, a stunning surprise because I could hardly believe people had the energy to jump up after the almost constant laughter from the first joke to the final note. This show is exhausting to watch.
This is musical theater with all the music, all the theater and all the huge number of characters any murder mystery needs.
Here’s the story.
Legendary mystery writer Arthur Whitney arrives home for a surprise birthday party. The only surprise greeting him is a bullet to the forehead, killing him. Uh, oh!
Marcus Moscowicz, a police officer with a pounding desire to advance to the rank of detective, arrives to solve the crown. Assisting him in this perplexing task are his assistant Lou, the Chief of police and, tangentially) his former partner Vanessa, who had to leave the force after chopping up her entire family.
The list of suspects is long and varied.
Dahlia Whitney, the victim’s loopy widow,
Murray and Barb Flandon, the Whitneys’ bickering neighbors,
Steph Whitney, an overeager grad student,.
Barette Lewis, a self-incriminating ballerina. Dr. Griff, a friendly local psychiatrist.
Timmy, Yonkers and Skid, members of antiquated 12 boys’ choir hired for the party.
Henry Vivaldi, a fireman.
By the way, Kinosian plays the part of all the suspects.
Kinosian grew up in Wauwatosa and took advantage of the open enrollment policy in Milwaukee to go to the MPS High School of the Arts.
Four years ago he and Blair put together this whacky musical and it has gone on to productions and awards all over the world. Lest you think this froth is just froth, be mindful that it’s been nominated for a bunch of honors including Drama Desk and Jefferson award programs.
At the Stacker he teams with Matt Edmonds who is the perfect straight man to the unstraight Kinosian. This is like watching today’s version of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis when they were in their prime.
The first clue (for the audience) to what kind of show this is comes when Edmonds begins to survey the scene and with perfect timing says “watch the body” the precise second Kinosian does the famed Jerry Lewis trip over the body.
Both of these artists play the piano, sometimes separately and other times together but this is no Ferrante and Teicher or dueling pianos. This is frantic accompaniment for a series of lyrics that cause everything from groans to titters to bellylaughs.
JC Clementz, who left The Rep a year ago to become the casting director at Steppenwolf, returned to direct this show. And watching him was a great indication of how wonderful this whole evening is. Despite having seen each of these jokes dozens of times during the rehearsal process, Clements still managed hearty laughter at so many of the moments.
Edmonds is an accomplished Chicago actor who plays the buttoned up but frustrated detective with a mixture of confidence, doubt, lust and aversion. His obvious lust for Barette Lewis is one of the highlights of the production.
Kinosians performance must be seen to be believed.
Costume changes are so minimal they almost don’t exist. He puts on a pair of black glasses and occasionally a boa, but the rest of it is done with a body that seems made of Play-Doh. He moves and turns up and down and all around, a Hokey Pokey of movement, all of which was wonderfully choreographed by Kelley Faulkner. This is not a guy you want to play Twister with.
Finally, like any good mystery story, the crime is solved. The temptation, of course, is to breath a sigh of relief. But….nobody knows who stole the ice cream or whether Marcus and Steph will become an item.
You’ll have to find out for yourself what I’m talking about.
Murder for Two runs through Jan. 14.
Production credits: Director JC Clementz, Music Director, Dan Kazemi; Scenic Designer Regina Garcia; Costume Designer Misti Bradford; Lighting Designer, Lee Fiskness; Sound Designer, Megan Henninger; Movement Director Kelley Faulkner; Casting Director Frank Honts; Stage Manager, Richelle Harrington Calin; Production Photographer, Michael Brosilow.