The Murder Game
King's Head Theatre Spring 2009
This first play by American lawyer James Farwell is an attempt at what Hollywood in the 1930s called 'screwball comedy', people rushing about doing silly things while trading snappy repartee.
It's a deceptively difficult genre - witness all the dreary romcoms Hollywood still churns out - and you may not find much more than the occasional chuckle in Farwell's try.
A man and wife are, respectively, district attorney (i.e., prosecutor) and judge in a New Orleans court. They are estranged because of his fling with an aide, and unsure through most of the first act as to just how civilised to be about things.
Their anger drives them to the extreme of each hiring a hit man to kill the other, but they come to their senses, and much of the farce arises out of their attempts to call off the contracts.
In the background are the spectre of an escaped criminal who has sworn vengeance on the judge, and the fact that both are in elected positions, so the action is punctuated by some clever parodies of TV campaign ads.
Eventually there are a few surprise plot twists, all telegraphed at least an hour in advance, so you're not likely to be too surprised. And as for the repartee, perhaps you will find lines like 'Love doesn't last forever. That's why we have credit cards' funnier than I did. (I'm not even sure what it means.)
I'm going to give director John Tillinger the benefit of the doubt and guess that it was deliberate to have everybody perform with a broadness that makes the worst soap opera acting look subtle.
The constant mugging, exaggerated double-takes, missed cues, flubbed lines, dropped props and shaky sets suggest an attempt at post-modern irony or self-parody in the mode of Acorn Antiques.
Either that, or everyone is just bad.
Ben Jones has some fun in the secondary role of a parody Latin lover. But everyone else - Josefina Gabrielle, Michael Praed, Patrick Clancy, Matt Healy - spends most of the evening looking either unhappy, embarrassed, trapped, or some combination thereof.
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The Murder Game - King's Head Theatre 2009