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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Murder for 2

And what of my criminal record? So what if I've killed a few men? I once was deranged but as you see, I've changed. It was self-defense and an entire jury of young persuadable men agreed. So what if I'm jumpy and skittish and tense? So what? We all have our flaws. So what if all of my sentences end in.... suspense? That's what happens when one's grasping at straws.— Barrette Lewis
PJeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback (Photo: Joan Marcus )
This madcap musical mystery shoots a cap at any puffed-up pretension beyond a giddy desire to please. Its pleasures may be too daffy to knock you dead. But the barrage of blithe inventions should still liven up your day, qualifying it as entertainment in the second degree.

The show starts with a bang when world-famous novelist Arthur Whitney is shot dead during a surprise birthday party in his New England mansion. The show's kicky conceit is that all the suspects are played by one performer. The only other actor sticks to one character — our narrator Marcus Moscowicz, the policeman tasked with keeping everyone in the house until the assigned detective is set to arrive. This doesn't stop Marcus from telling stories in which he gets to act out various roles, helping the actor playing him get in the fun.

Director Scott Schwartz has cast a perfectly-suited pair of contrasting performers. Compact Brett Ryback, equal parts handsome and goofy, charms as everyman Moscowicz, who hopes to get bumped up to detective by figuring out first who bumped off Whitney. The tall, lanky, and bald Jeff Blumenkrantz wows as the gaggle of possible perpetrators: from newly widowed Dahlia to Barrette, the ballerina Moscowicz pines for, to Steph, the young lady who's fallen for him, to a trio of adolescent rapscallions, to too many to mention.

Besides the misaligned passions, a meta-theatrical contretemps between the actors forms another source of frisky conflict as the duo jockey for position to play the only accompaniment, a piano. Each tinkles the keys terrifically but the two-hander reaches heights of musical merriment when they finally sit side-by-side, making the show literally a four-hander.

Momentum is maintained less through upping the ante of suspense than an intensifying sense of silliness in both the writing and staging. Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair's book and score makes the time pass fleetly without hanging around long in the memory. Schwartz's sharp staging has variety and surprise, while helping Blumenkrantz keep clear delineations between characters even while switching at lightning speed.

The design work is simple but elegant. Jason Lyons' lighting is colorfully crisp. Tony Award winner Beowulf Borrit's set places us in a small, unadorned music hall, which immediately helps us go with the direct address and broad playing style. It also made me wonder, during a less interesting moment, whether the writers considered going British with their grand manor, Agatha Christie style mystery.

This audience-pleasing production premiered in New York two years ago at the not-for-profit Second Stage's smaller second stage before moving to a commercial off-Broadway house for a seven-month run. ( Review ). The Geffen has smartly booked it for much of the summer. If you can watch this loony lark without grinning from start to finish, that would be a mystery indeed.
Murder for Two
Book and Music by Joe Kinosian & Book and Lyrics by Kellen Blair
  Directed by Scott Schwartz
Cast: Jeff Blumenkrantz (The Suspects), Brett Ryback (Marcus)

  Sets: Beowulf Boritt
Costumes: Andrea Lauer
Sound: Jill BC DuBoff
Lighting: Jason Lyons
Music Director: David Caldwell
Choreographer: Wendy Seyb
Running Time: 95 minutes
Plays Tuesdays to Sundays through August 2
Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, 90024 (310) 208-5454
Reviewed Jon Magaril
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