“A hospital? What is it?”
“It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.”
Despite my putting on airs as a connoisseur of high-brow entertainment (I do watch “Downton Abbey,” after all), one of my favorite movies of all time is 1980’s “Airplane!” that classic spoof of airport disaster movies that still, to this day, has me in stitches whenever I watch it.
Maybe that’s why, sitting virtually alone in the Arts Council theater Wednesday night, I tried in vain to suppress fits of laughter during a preview performance of “The Murder Room.”
The fledgling Norwich Theater Company is staging the Jack Sharkey-penned farce this weekend, with shows at 7 tonight and Saturday. This is the first time I’ve been able to catch a show by this new company, and I must say I was suitably impressed.
“The Murder Room” is a great choice for community theater – small ensemble, one set – and fast-paced, witty dialogue that seems as much fun for the actors to deliver as it is for the audience to watch.
Set in contemporary England, “The Murder Room” is a send-up of every typical British mystery you can think of – Agatha Christie, The Pink Panther, et al – much in the way my beloved “Airplane!” spoofed disaster flicks with its rapier-sharp, if painfully obvious, wit.
Stuffy rich guy Edgar Hollister (Michael Gray) discovers that his new wife, the deliciously devious Mavis (Marty Kuhn) is having an affair – and they’ve only been married a day! It quickly becomes apparent that Mavis is only in it for the money: after a failed poisoning attempt (that poor kitty!) she offs Edgar with three shots from a pistol. Or so she thinks. Detective James Crandall (Scott Douglas) arrives to investigate Mr. Hollister’s disappearance, questioning both his new wife and dottering maid, Lottie Molloy (Patricia Carnrike). The detective is aided in his probe (and he needs all the help he can get) by constable Abel Howard (also Michael Gray, in the set-up of another joke or two). As Mavis looks more and more guilty (to the audience anyway; the others are oblivious to her machinations), the situation is complicated by the arrival of Edgar’s delightfully dim-witted daughter Susan (Cathy Heim) and her millionaire fiancé, Barry (Justin Sawyer). Hilarity, as they say, ensues.
Normally, I tend to sit through the first act of these productions, getting what I need to write a review and then high-tailing it out of there. Sometimes I come back for the full performance later, sometimes I try to forget about it as soon as I’m done with this column. For “The Murder Room,” I started to stay through the second act, but actually had to force myself to leave. Not only because “American Idol” was on (there’s that high-brow entertainment again), but also I wanted to actually “save” some surprises for me this weekend when I go see it all the way through. Yes, folks, it’s that good!
Crack comedic timing is essential in a small ensemble in a play with jokes – both subtle and broad – flying at a furious pace, and the Norwich Theater Company cast has that in spades. There’s not a bad performance in the lot, but I was particularly taken by Marty Kuhn and Cathy Heim, playing characters at opposite ends of the spectrum in both humor and intelligence. Both are literally a laugh a minute. Kudos to director Richard Heim for stitching this whole crew together.
If you’re looking for an easy, breezy hour or two of non-stop laughter and farcical hijinks, “The Murder Room” is just the ticket for you. For more information, visit www.norwichtheatercompany.org.
Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunjeff.