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REVIEW: Murder at the Best Western a terrific screwball comedy

by David Meyer

ST. JACOBS - Drayton Entertainment introduced a hot, nutty comedy on the hottest day of the year.

Murder at the Best Western opened on July 21 and an appreciative audience lapped up everything offered, including Neil Aitchison, the only speaker who can make the reading of the sponsors’ list entertaining.

And then the play began, with howls of laughter.

It is the late 1970s, and as director Bob Lourmann wrote in his notes, everyone had gone from drugs to self actualization - but the hangover was evident.

Meet three screwballs in a love triangle that threatens to become a straight line or, even worse, a square.

Stephanie McNamara plays Arlene Miller, a kook who has grown while her husband stagnated. She has gone from reading magazines to, gasp, books. She believes they aided her thinking processes, but the cliché about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing is true in her case.

She is having an affair with dentist Mitchell Lovell, played by J. Sean Elliott, who is not only a skirt chaser, but dresses worse than Herb Tarlick, the salesman of WKRP TV fame. Costume designer Jessica Bray deserves full marks for daring in his costumes.

Of course he and Arlene are meeting at the Best Western (a story in itself for this production) to kill Arlene’s husband, Paul Miller. He is an impeccably dressed used car salesman with a cynical world view that belies everything that happened in the world in the previous 15 years.

Lovers being killers can actually be quite funny, particularly with the waffling Arlene and Mitchell, who is family dentist to both Millers. The lovers decide the best course is to have Paul Miller give his wife a divorce. If he refuses, they will kill him.

What ensues, of course, is not only predictable, but worthy of the Keystone Kops. The physical comedy of the three actors is superb and timing is down to a science. We did not find a missed line or mistimed movement; a rare thing even for professionals on opening night.

It seems only right that after Paul’s murder gets botched, Arlene decides to kill Mitchell for cheating - and even manages to elicit the aid of her soon-to-be-ex husband.

Along the way, we find world views that seem not only dated to the 1970s, but hilariously so. Paul’s comparison of sex to baseball plays was particularly hilarious, especially when he announces, as a grand finale, “Then, it’s football season?!”

It is not giving anything away to note that in the final act, both men decide to kill Arlene. We already mentioned the plot here is fairly predicable. But authors Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick have just enough tricks up their sleeves that there is a final twist or two in the last scenes to keep everyone satisfied.

All three actors in this comedy were superb and very convincing, and we saw a rare standing ovation for them at the end of the evening. Those were once the norm - in the 1970s - but audiences have become tougher these days.

Murder at the Best Western runs with eight weekly performances until Aug. 7 at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, and tickets are already 75% sold.

Call 519-747-7788 or toll free at 1-855-272-9866 for tickets.

 

 

July 29, 2011

 
 

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