Murderers

By - Nov 17th, 2008 02:52 pm
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Riddle Key, FL is home to a retirement community that offers only exorbitant five year leases to its willing and unwilling residents. In a populace that expects and on occasion even hurries to usher in death, two residents and one administrative office worker each unravel their stories independently of each other. Each unmasks their status as a murderer and yet all three retain their repartee, levity and humanity.

In its nineteenth season, Next Act Theatre continues its tradition of producing socially provoking yet personally comforting plays with its opening of Murderers, by Jeffrey Hatcher. The play is made up of three monologues all approximately half an hour long. The success of this play relies on the performances of the actors. Without another actor on stage to authenticate relationships and emotions, each actor has to story tell and re-live the events contributing to a murder or several.

Norman Moses is charming as Gerald Halvorsen, a middle-aged man who marries his girlfriend/common law wife’s mother to avoid taxes on her ample estate. A doctor assures that her death is only weeks away. When Gerald learns her condition is treatable he hesitates telling her, setting into motion the events that lead to the murder he commits and the murder everyone thinks he commits. Moses is able to confess Gerald’s story with wit that revels in the irony of the situation. He is especially deft with his sharp impersonations of the people involved with his crime. Gliding in and out of several different background characters within just a few seconds, Moses showcases Gerald’s mockery of his own near perfect caper.

Playing Lucy Stickler, Ruth Schudson is coolly vindictive. A woman her husband had an affair with several decades earlier moves to Riddle Key and resumes the long-ended fling. After accepting it and continuing her marriage the first time, Lucy calmly calculates a murder that implicates her husband and the other woman. Schudson is pithy with Lucy’s sarcasm about her own life. Even though Lucy’s body is failing, she needs to avenge the events that have shaped her adult life. Schudson’s rhythm and frankness is exactly what makes Hatcher’s Lucy compelling.

While Gerald and Lucy both commit single homicides, Minka Lupino is entirely a different creature. Linda Stephens innocently explains why Minka is not a serial killer, but more of a do-gooder, avenging the helpless elderly. Stephens’ connection with the audience lies in her virtuous manner while playing Minka. She lends a righteous air to a woman obsessed with weeding out rotten apples.

While Moses, Schudson and Stephens are all incredibly capable actors in any role, the level of achievement Next Act Theatre reaches with Murderers must be partly credited to director David Cecsarini. In a work that is strictly monologue vignettes, apt and reflective guidance is needed for actors to accurately tell the story. Cecsarini, also NAT’s Producing Artistic Director, exceeds the standards expected by those familiar with Next Act.

With the country’s current economic state, people are limiting their entertainment outings. Many people now consider seeing a play as something ‘extra.’ Arguably one of Milwaukee’s top three theatres, Next Act Theatre should be able to withstand the fallout. Whatever your relationship with theatre — weekly patron, occasional viewer or entirely unaccustomed — go see Murderers at Next Act Theatre. You won’t be sorry. VS

Murderers runs through December 14 at the Off-Broadway Theater.  414-278-0765 or www.nextact.org

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