It would be an exaggeration to call “Murder for Two,” a musical comedy that opened at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick this weekend, fast-paced. It is frantically paced. It’s a two-man murder mystery that starts off silly and only gets sillier as the night progresses. I have to admit, all the slapstick and the mugging made a lot of people sitting near me laugh hard, and often. But I was pretty much immune to its charms. Ninety minutes of throwaway, hit-or-miss jokes is not my idea of a good night at the theater.
Ian Lowe plays Marcus, a policeman who yearns to be a detective. The sweet but not-too-swift Marcus has an opportunity to prove his investigative skills when he finds himself at the scene of a murder — a famous novelist has been killed at a dinner party — and has some time alone with the suspects (the novelist’s wife and the party’s attendees) before the real detective arrives. So he bumbles his way through the investigation.
Playing all the suspects is Joe Kinosian (who also wrote the music and co-wrote the book). And not only does the play feature only these two actors, but they handle all the music too, accompanying each other on piano.
In theory, the idea of watching Kinosian’s lightning-fast transformations from one character to the next might be entertaining, but really, the suspects were so minimally sketched I found myself not always knowing, or even caring, who he was trying to be. I’d love, someday, to see what these two energetic guys could do with better material, but with jokes and premises that were more or less at the level of a bad “Saturday Night Live” skit, all their hard work seemed barely worth the effort.
That said, there were some scattered jokes I found amusing, like a running gag that found Kinosian breaking character to berate the audience after a cellphone goes off, with Lowe, looking guilty, trying to hide the fact that it is actually his phone. A purposely corny “friendship song” was clever, and the encore — a dazzling piano duet — put a nice cap on the evening.
And, as I said, there were a lot of people in the theater who seemed to be enjoying “Murder for Two” a lot more than me. And that, from my point of view, might be the night’s biggest mystery.
The play runs through Oct. 25; visit georgestreetplayhouse.org.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.