In Tandem’s “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s”
There are lots of ways to kill someone in a hotel room, and any of them could be the stuff of tragedy. It’s harder to think of the ways that make people laugh about murder.
Playwrights Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick and the cast of In Tandem Theatre’s Murder at the Howard Johnson’s are good at it — much better, actually, than their characters are at committing the crime.
Jane Flieller directed this tale of three attempted murders gone comically wrong. The murderers and victims are Arlene (Cat Yates), a confused ’70s housewife seeking fulfillment; Paul (Dylan Bolin), her loving if boring husband; and Mitchell (Darrel Cherney), her dentist-turned-lover. The play starts with Arlene and Mitchell plotting to drown Paul, but before long, each take a turns as intended victim.
Does this sound twisted and darkly romantic? It’s not. Murder at the Howard Johnson’s is unapologetic slapstick. Any romance and suspense just set up the punch lines.
Sometimes this is a good thing. It’s hard to stop laughing during certain scenes, as when Paul agreeably lets Mitchell tie him to a chair, thinking he and Arlene will never go through with murdering him. Or the later, when the tables are turned and Paul repeatedly bursts prematurely out of the closet to kill Mitchell. The snappy pace of the jokes keeps the show moving.
Broad comedy can have a downside. In Tandem’s players overact often, and it grates sometimes, especially early in the play.
This tendency toward melodrama also leads to the play’s strangest and most out-of-character moment. Arlene gives a super-dramatic monologue at the end of the first act. In a smarter comedy, it would give us pause and add some weight to the hilarity. But in this one, the two guys chase around on the ledge of the skyscraper and undercut Arlene’s moment.
Still, it’s hard to complain about Murder at the Howard Johnson’s. It’s supposed to do nothing more than make you laugh, and it does. If I told you it made me think, I’d be kidding you.
In Tandem’s Murder at the Howard Johnson’s runs through March 13 at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. Tickets: Call the In Tandem box office, 414-271-1371, or visit its website.