Remind me never to check my aging self into a place like the Riddle Key Retirement Center and Golf Course.
Although it’s an obvious fact that most people who move into such places eventually “expire” there, a slew of recent deaths at the Florida complex are anything but natural. Yet whodunit isn’t the question explored in the dark comedy “Murderers” at Lansing’s BoarsHead Theater. Rather, it’s WHY the killers did it – and HOW?
Told as three separate monologues, Gerald Halverson (played by Tobin Hissong) is a middle-aged slacker who marries his longtime girlfriend’s dying mother to avoid losing a considerable chunk of her estate through the death tax. But their dreams are thwarted when Gerald decides to help push nature along after learning his wife’s initial diagnosis was incorrect – and his secret plan is discovered by a neighborhood gigolo who demands $10,000 a month to keep it quiet.
Then there’s 75-year-old Lucy Stickler (Carmen Decker), whose quiet life is turned upside down when serial home wrecker Margaret Faydle moves into the retirement center. (Lucy’s husband Bob had an affair with the oft-married hussy nearly three decades earlier. So, too, did most of the men in their hometown.) Suddenly, Bob’s out in the community performing a plethora of good works – which tells Lucy that his “secret” romance is underway once again. And that leaves the heartsick woman with only one logical course of action.
However, it’s not just the residents who are bumping one another off at Riddle Key; so too is administrator Minka Lupino (Laural Merlington). Murderers have their reasons, she learns from a series of crime novels, and hers is to rid the workplace of anyone who takes advantage of her elderly residents. “After you’ve done it once, it just gets easier and easier,” she says matter-of-factly – which certainly explains her ever-expanding list of victims.
Although some might not find murder a laughing matter, Jeffrey Hatcher’s unusual script has great fun slicing and dicing the murder-mystery genre. (It’s a subject the playwright knows well, having scripted episodes of the Peter Falk TV series “Columbo.”) Yet at the same time he delights in poking fun at the golf cart-riding blue-hairs who’ve taken over large chunks of the sunshine state.
But it’s the challenges he offers both the actors and the audience that are most intriguing.
Since “Murderers” is nearly two-and-a-half hours of storytelling, all three actors must grab and hold our attention by employing vocal and physical skills they don’t normally use in the course of a traditional play. Because not only are they creating their OWN unique characters, they must quickly become all of the OTHER individuals who drop in and out of their stories – and they must be clear and concise with their portrayals.
Hissong, making his BoarsHead debut, moves his story along quite well with an easy-going, matter-of-fact demeanor, despite being saddled by the playwright with far too much unnecessary background clutter that seemed to confuse both the actor and his audience last Saturday night.
Merlington is best at capturing the many and varied personalities of the people who populate her story. And her blithe performance gives us a misguided Minka the audience can’t help but like.
But once again it’s Decker who toddles around the stage and steals the show. A master at knowing which words to punch and the most effective way to deliver them, the sweet, grandmotherly Decker murders the audience often with some very surprising – and un-senior-like – dialogue.
Although her scene, too, could use some judicisious trimming, director and BoarsHead co-founder John Peakes keeps the actors focused and the stories flowing.
And unlike at the retirement center, the laughs rarely expire.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand, Lansing. Wednesday-Sunday, through Feb. 24. Tickets: $12-$25. For information: 517-484-7805 or http://www.boarshead.org