Dallas — What’s up at Dallas City Performance Hall? Murder, that’s what. Murder for Two is a madcap mashup of Agatha Christie and Cole Porter, with a dusting of Groucho Marx packed into 100 minutes of galloping guffaws and riotous revved-up songs, all served up by two giddily goofball guys, one piano, and trunks full of particularly appropriate props.
What a fun night at the theater.
The touring two-man musical, an off-Broadway hit written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair and brought here to open the second season of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Off-Broadway on Flora series, stars long-limbed Kinosian playing at least a dozen characters at a surprise birthday party gone septic, and sweet-faced Ian Lowe as Marcus, the wanna-be detective bent on sniffing out which of these suspects murdered the infamous novelist Arthur Whitney on his special day. “What an awfully lovely surprise,” sings his widow (Kinosian as a stage-starved Southern belle), pushed “into the shadows” by her notorious husband and more concerned about the culprit who stole the ice cream than the husband-killer. She flutters and flatters by turns as Marcus proceeds with his by-the-book interrogation of everybody present.
Everybody else, of course, is played by the amazing Kinosian, putting his extensive leg and arm span to superb comic use, à la John Cleese, in flitting from one character to another, changing personas by shifting voices, gait, and mini-mannerisms, aided only by the slightest of props. In a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, Kinosian becomes the stoop-shouldered, creaky old psychiatrist who just happens to be the shrink for virtually all the neurotics at the party—including our aspiring detective Marcus.
With a pink hanky executing a bow-legged pas de deux, Kinosian swooshes across the stage as an exotic Russian ballerina vamping the easily seduced Marcus and prompting him to launch into a verse of “Crime Scene Protocol,” reminding himself to “trust your gut, and not your heart.” But before Marcus can get his gumshoes off the floor, the dead man’s chatty young niece (Kinosian in eager puppy mode) intercepts him, offering her grad school ideas about crime solving, and speeding off into a love-struck wistful song declaring that this cutie-pie detective is “practically complete” except “He needs a Partner.” This triangle played by two works like a charm—indeed, Kinosian and Lowe play it so perfectly, I never got confused about who was whom—and that’s also because Lowe is an expressive straight man, never missing an emotional cue to his partner’s manic moves and playful patter. (Alliteration just happens when you write about these two troupers. See?)
From a vicious married couple to a couple of nine-year-old streetwise survivors of the disaster-prone 12-member boys choir at the party, Kinosian’s got it covered. On his knees and wearing a baseball cap backwards, the been-there-done-that kid sings “I’ve Seen a Lot Woise,” including Mamma Mia and his grandma naked in the shower, evoking a gag response for both.
Marcus has to solve the case to show off his detective chops before the real detective shows up, driving the pace of the show to steroid speed, under the sharp direction of Scott Schwartz, who also directed the award-winning off-Broadway production starring Jeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback in 2013.
The script is physically demanding, and both actors perform all the music, accompanying themselves and each other at the lone piano on the set, a vaudeville-looking curtained affair designed by Beowulf Boritt with a creaky door and trunks regurgitating odd props. When one man leaves the bench, the other slides on behind him, keeping the seat warm and never missing a chord or a word in the clever lyrics. They even play together when the stars and the whodunit plot align—and the curtain call is a charming, nutty duet for four hands and a couple of guys having a great time making an audience laugh.
» Read our interview with Kellen Blair