Theater Review: Stageloft slays with comedy ‘A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody’
By Kevin T. Baldwin, Telegram & Gazette Reviewer
Posted at 11:51 AM Updated at 11:51 AM
STURBRIDGE — The latest offering from Stageloft is a toxic homage to early 1930s film comedies, “A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody,” and the production is simply to die for.
Like a myopic marksman, eccentric tycoon Matthew Perry (David S. Hopcroft) keeps missing his intended target, wife Julia (Brenda Jenkins) who he is attempting to slay.
Written by Ron Bernas and set in a posh mansion on New Year’s Eve, Matthew and Julia seem to have everything; servants, a plethora of friends, vast riches ... and a great deal of animosity toward one another. They admit to not even sleeping in the same bedroom.
Still reeling from the death of a widowed friend, Matthew has grown tired of his spouse. He longs for the kind of excitement enjoyed by his late friend, freed of the prison that was his wife (who Matthew affectionately referred to as “Witch Hazel”) living as a jet setter. Instead Matthew blames Julia as the cause for much of the ennui in his all too mundane life.
As with all farce, of course, Matthew does something incredibly stupid. He actually informs his wife of his New Year’s resolution: his intent to do away with her by the end of the coming year.
Julia, surprisingly accepting of the announcement, counters in kind. She vows to stay alive to be witness to their daughter’s marriage, but dares Matthew to make his best attempt at murder.
There seems to be a natural chemistry between the two acting partners. There are moments of lighthearted verbal jousting and tender exchanges between Hopcroft and Jenkins, even as he plots to kill her. The affection seems incredibly genuine. Out of the six-member cast, these two actors are especially the better on stage because of their partnership.
Consequently, the plot of the ridiculous wager now becomes less a “whodunit” and more of a yearlong cat and mouse competition, not knowing, at times, who is the stalker and who is the prey.
We also meet butler Buttram (Larry Loring), who has a mysterious secret of his own that the Perrys are unaware of.
Loring’s performance is impeccable for the terrific supporting character Bernas has written. Every time the Buttram character enters the stage the energy of the scene is immediately elevated.
There was a decision made, either in the Bernas script or by the director, for Buttram to use a cellphone, which seemed out of place in the story. Although it is never made clear when the show takes place, if this is, in fact, supposed to be an homage to any part of the last century, then cellphone does not seem to fit.
Under the direction of Robert C. Latino, all the performances are well-focused and many times en pointe for much of the highbrow physicality required for certain slapstick moments on stage.
Things become so distressing in the mansion that the Perrys’ daughter, Bunny (Caity Rogers), tells them she wants to call off her impending nuptials to fiancé Donald (Greg Glanvlle). No one wants to attend the wedding with all the murders at the house. Rogers and Glanville have very good chemistry on stage, with Rogers expertly playing up the vacuous nature of Bunny.
As the game between Matthew and Julia escalates, it unintentionally targets unseen staff and visiting friends to the mansion who begin to die, over the course of several months, under suspicious circumstances, such as poisoning, falling statues and other nefarious circumstances.
Enter Detective Plotnik (Joshua Raymond), who bumbles his way onto the scene to try to solve the less-than-baffling multiple murders.
Like all the other blatant stereotypes in this deliciously wicked farce, Plotnik pays homage to the immortal pulp novel and “Maltese Falcon” gumshoe “Sam Spade” but Plotnik shares none of the detective instincts or impulses of Spade. The only things the two men do share in common is the love of a good mystery ... and a really shoddy raincoat. Raymond has some great one-liners, especially in his exchanges with Glanville and Loring.
In Act 2, there is a brief moment where Plotnik disguises himself in a Charlie Chan-style costume. Whether this was in Bernas’ script or director’s choice is unclear, but it was a cringe-worthy culturally offensive moment to say the least. This, though, was the only low point in the show, and thankfully it was quite brief.
The single set for the Perry mansion is well-constructed with great attention to detail, so much so it has two covered set pieces (a couch and chair) that actually seem to detract from the otherwise beautiful set. Lighting was a simple but effective full wash of the stage, and set changes were kept brief as to not upset the flow of the story.
As the story hilariously meanders from one murderous mishap to another, it seems Matthew is responsible for murdering just about everybody else EXCEPT Julia. But there are a lot of questions that arise surrounding the deaths that put Matthew’s involvement into speculation.
As is the case with this genre, the last half-hour of the second act spends far too much time trying to wrap up loose ends, i.e. unresolved plot points. However, Bernas has constructed answers to a lot of inherent plot point questions exceedingly well, and the cast keep the funny very much “alive” up to the very end.