Tuesday, January 26, 2010

At Howard Johnson’s: murder and adultery for fun

With “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s,” Bob and Ro Productions is off to a happy start at the popular Studio Theatre in Sacramento. Though the play, by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick, has murder in its title, we know at the outset that it’s going to be a comedy. It turns out to be one long spoof of murder story as genre.

The plot involves only three characters: Arlene Miller (Lee Marie Kelly); Mitchell Lovell (Dean Shellenberger), her lover; and Paul Miller (Aurelio Martinez), her husband. All the action, both hilarious and scary, takes place at a Howard Johnson’s hotel “somewhere in America.” In the first scene, a week before Christmas, the lovers plot Paul’s murder but somehow manage to screw things up.

The second scene, on the fourth of July, finds them back at the hotel, but this time Arlene and Paul have been reconciled. Mitch has been unfaithful to Arlene, so the married couple now plots to murder him. This is the scariest scene, with both men chasing each other, visibly through large windows, as they chase each other along a ledge high above the ground.

After a fifteen-minute intermission, the second act and its single scene bring the trio back to the hotel on New Year’s Eve, but this time…I won’t spoil the story by giving it away.

The real charm of the play, thanks largely to the deft direction by Bob Gerould, is in the dialogue and sight gags. Paul has the best lines, like “Cut the crap, Arlene. You’re looking at a used car dealer.” Then there’s “A truly healthy person would never commit suicide” and “Potatoes don’t help you forget.”

Arlene has a couple of good ones, like “This would be much easier if he didn’t love me so much.” So does Mitch, who gets to say, “Life is cruel and I’m not crazy about the government.” And then there’s one line that defines the play itself: “I saw death and it winked at me.” The actors are well cast for the spirit of the play, combining skills in drama and comedy.

“Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” continues through February 21 at The Studio Theatre, 1028 R Street, Sacramento. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 general, $15 for students, $18 for seniors. For tickets call (877) 532-7171 between noon and 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. See also www.BobandRoProductions.org.

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