THEATER REVIEW: “Murder For Two” at the Old Globe

A piano takes near-center stage in the comedic musical whodunit “Murder For Two,” playing through March 1 at the Old Globe. Scott Schwartz directs this lickety-split two-hander that requires both actors to sing, dance, act *and* play that piano, together and separately.

Developed at Chicago Shakespeare Theater by Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian (who describes the show as “Agatha Christie as produced by the Marx Brothers”), “Murder For Two” delivers an impressive if exhausting 100 minutes of nonstop action, jokes clever and corny, lots of references to characters you may think you remember from Christie’s books, even an effective visual nod to Hitchcock tossed in for good measure. Oh, and music, also penned by the Mssrs. Blair and Kinosian.

The setup: The murder of Arthur Whitney, the “Great American Novelist,” at his front door – on his birthday, if you please. Whitney had a habit of exposing his friends’ dirty little secrets in his books, so there’s no lack of murder motives among this crowd. He could have been felled by a gunshot, poisoned tea or a knife to the gut, depending on whom you ask.

There are something like 14 characters. One is flatfoot Marcus Moscowicz (Ian Lowe), who wants more than anything to make detective and hopes that solving this mystery before the detective arrives will get him that promotion.

And those 13 other characters (yes, you read it right), from breathy ballerina Barrette Lewis to Whitney’s crusty widow Dahlia to tell-all shrink Dr. Griff – are all played by Kinosian.

It’s a crazy idea, right? So don’t look for anything rational here. “Murder For Two” is best taken as a circus full of strange characters united by their loathing of the deceased, best enjoyed by not thinking too much while watching.

Lowe’s ambitious (but a bit bumbling) Marcus is charming – not to mention goofy – especially when trying to teach his even more ambitious niece Steph how to be a detective. And he plays a pretty darned good piano.

Kinosian shines, running around, dancing, playing all the suspects and a few unseen characters, many of whom are distinguished by specific poses. And boy, can he play that piano. The two of them really go to town on the four-hands stuff.

Speaking of music: Most of the songs are undistinguished. The major exception is the ballerina’s “So What If I Did?” with lines like “So what if this morning we got in a fight?....So what if I told him I’d kill him tonight?...So what if I spent all of Sunday maliciously forging his will?”

“Murder For Two” is an odd piece, more like an extended vaudeville bit than anything. The idea’s fun and there’s a lot of impressive work going on, but for me the whole adds up to too much of a muchness.

Here’s a tip for the gamesters out there: watch for the entire panoply of “Clue” murder weapons.

The details

“Murder For Two” plays through March 1 on The Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park in San Diego, California.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.