Hip Shot: Aaaaagh! Murder
Tuesday, July 24th, 10:00 p.m.
They say: "Lord and Lady Killington are having their first party at Gloomethorne Manor in years. But all of their house staff has been murdered! Can Sergeant Inspector Barnaby Tweed solve the crime and find the culprit before it's time for pudding?"
Joseph's Take: If we made a wide enough lasso around the Kennedy Center to loop around neighboring Maryland and Virginia dinner theaters, maybe we could say that the greater Washington's area cultural contributions include both the half-smoke and the interactive murder mystery. It's a frequently maddening genre: Its fair and balanced reporting of clues and character assassinations and the personality-focused voting mirror the worst of our electoral politics. It's similarly ripe for satire.
Enter, Aaaaagh! Murder. Familiarly set in the countryside English manor, Murder aims to skewer the traditional Whodunnit. Both the parodic attempt and production start hopefully. In the first, and arguably best, scene, Lord and Lady Killington (Nick Firer, also the playwright, and Claire Coyle) gush over their meticulously scheduled evening of raconteuring, pudding, and, most teasingly, fancy hats. Firer and Coyle transform an exposition dump into a riot with well-tuned upper-crust mannerisms and charming obliviousness–who would turn down an invitation to the Killington's Gloomthorne Manor in Upperwest Grizzlydeath? I repeat, FANCY HATS!
The Killingtons's guests have questionable backgrounds, of course. The first, Justin Brill, seems miscast as the hoary military retiree Col. Longbaugh. He bites onto the role with gusto, but his affected warble for Longbaugh is just too damn distracting. Parsing his marble-mouthed speechifying overlapped with a handful of missed comedic moments. Director Desiree Gibson's makes a vivacious turn as Longbaugh's "ward" and lover, Loretta Swank, equal parts femme fatale and bimbo. Barnaby Tweed (Sean O'Conner), the Yard investigator sent to investigate the crime, explains the gruesome conditions of the murders–forget Clue's lead pipe, one victim is forced to eat her own womb–with gravitas and a seemingly endless supply of patience.
Maybe it's too much patience. By the numbers, Firer's script spoofs all the worst things about the genre: off-screen victims, superficial sleuthing, deux ex machinas. But the last act of the show begs for a straight-man to play against the compounding layers of ridiculousness. The antic insensitivity and forgetfulness of the gentry starts killing, ends wearying. Maybe the dour Winfield (Vic Issitude) could have provided more comedic balance, but, in this case, the butler didn't do it; Issitude isn't given enough time on stage.
Still, you get sucked into the tomfoolery. Because of the murders, pudding is never served, but there's fancy hats, a game cast. Like the Killingtons, I prefer to ignore the minor unpleasantness behind a small part of the evening.
See it if: the loss of a few social inferiors is a small price to pay for an evening out.
Skip it if: your murder mystery isn't complete without an audience vote.