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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review

She looks like Diana Vreeland’s idea of Dr. No. — Gerald
She would always end up on her feet, and in very nice shoes.— Lucy

Kristine Nielsen as Minka Lupino in  Murderers
Kristine Nielsen as Minka Lupino in Murderers. (Photo: Mark Garvin)
Murderers is in East Coast Premiere by the Philadelphia Theatre Company. I was able to overcome the disappointing realization that this was to be an evening of three monologues —performance pieces rather than a play—only by remembering how good a writer Jeffrey Hatcher is. Then I settled in to enjoy the show for what it is.

The stage is dominated by James Noone’s very handsome, Florida-modern entrance to the gated community of Riddle Key Retirement Community and Golf Course. The three characters appear together only at the beginning, where, under separate spots, each announces "I am a murderer." It recalls the opening of the classic game show, To Tell the Truth, which these characters and actors and many in the audience would remember from the 50s and 60s.

The gates, closed between scenes, open to reveal three consecutive locations, where each artfully executed (pardon the pun) set is completely static like a picture in a frame, and from which each character recounts a tale of murder. Because the three characters can’t bond with each other, they bond directly with the audience. The first is a "younger" man who marries his significant other’s mother so she can help them avoid estate taxes; the second, a cheated-on wife whose husband’s old heartthrob has moved to the retirement home; and the third, with the mind of an avenging angel, is in management at the retirement community.

These are marvelously clever tales. The storytellers assume all the various personalities they describe under the beautiful light-touch direction of Michael Bush, who allows each character to emerge as a unique individual without the burden of heavy directorial issues laid over the production.

A smooth and fairly low key Gerald (Brent Langdon) tells the tale of his almost mother-in-law who is also his wife and how they came to be in their situation. In part two, Marylouise Burke plays the excruciatingly well written role of newsy, chatty Lucy. She entertains so engagingly in her "sparky housewife voice" with the story of the horrible Margaret, who came down to Florida to wreck marriages, that the opening night audience broke into sustained spontaneous applause mid-stream in her performance. Burke is that good. Kristine Nielsen’s Minka is a fascinating character that the psychiatrists in the audience might want to talk to; however, the stage business in this last section is weaker, ie, putting flowers in a vase.

Each character has one significant little activity: Gerald’s concerns wardrobe, Lucy’s is about prescriptions, and Minka’s is a compulsive little action that conjures a Lady Macbeth. The gratifying little linkages embedded in the stories are among the most satisfying parts of the production, but by the last piece the audience is waiting for more significant connections that don’t materialize. And, as Colombo would say, just one more thing: This piece would work just as well as an audio book, which would offer the added advantage of being able to be played in the car. The three important little actions in the scenes could be described in a few words on tape. And the rest of the visuals, as nice as they are, are essentially superfluous. This is, after all, a monologue show.

Hatcher’s keen observations are accompanied by a wonderful sense of the ridiculous. He supplies wry commentary on old people, their families, and underlying venality, accompanied by a string of golf carts, cul de sacs, and villas. It is a tribute to Hatcher’s ability that despite the fact that all dramatic action is not presented, but filtered through description, he has created a piece that is simply charming.


by Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Michael Bush
Cast: Marylouise Burke, Brent Langdon, Kristine Nielsen
Set Design: James Noone
Lighting Design: Traci Klainer
Costume Design: Karen Ann Ledger
Sound Design & original music: Ryan Rumery At Plays & Players Theater, Delancey Place
Running time approx 2 hrs with one fifteen minute intermission
10/06/06 to 11/05/06 Opening 10/11/06

Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 10/11 performance
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