Murder for Two, a musical/detective story, would be a lot more fun in an intimate, cabaret setting: clinking glasses, lubricated laughter, face-to-face interaction. But on the Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley mainstage, the two-hander feels out of place. The Shiley is, or at least has been, the site for Shakespeare and Shaw, August Wilson and August: Osage County. Murder is a lightweight, miniature musical: two performers, one piano. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt had to shrink the bulb-fringed proscenium down to size for the genre: Fluff Lite.
Ian Lowe plays Marcus, a wanna-be detective. Someone murdered Arthur Whitney, best-selling author of The Feisty Old Couple and All of Them Bananas. Was it his jealous wife, who had means, motive, and opportunity in droves? Or possibly Miss Lewis, the ballerina who strikes stagey poses? Or Dr. Griff, a psycho psychiatrist who could spend a few seasons on the couch? Or the three remaining singers, in red baseball caps, from a 12-boy choir? (They’ve seen worse, they sing in one of the show’s funniest songs: “We spent a night trapped in Ikea once; we saw a show called Mama Mia once.”)
What makes the evening memorable isn’t the mystery or the music. It’s Joe Kinosian’s tour de force performance. He wrote the score, cowrote the book, and plays all the suspects, often shifting from one to the next with the spin of a hat, or spinning around and changing postures with speed and grace. Kinosian’s a 21st century vaudevillian of the first order.
He and Lowe play the piano with skill, even when crawling over each other to reach the keys. They are always theatrical, often quite funny, and both have the material down to a spec. But they’re so polished, they run ahead of the audience and blur punchlines and asides. You’d wish they’d decelerate — and shout less — since director Scott Schwartz has them paced at light speed. It’s as if they want to impress with how fast they can race through the 90+ minute piece, rather than how well.
Murder for Two, book and music by Joe Kinosian, book and lyrics by Kellen Blair
Playing through March 1; Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-234-5623. Old Globe Theatre, Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, Balboa Park
Directed by Scott Schwartz: cast: Joe Kinosian, Ian Lowe; scenic design, Beowulf Boritt; costumes, Andrea Lauer; lighting, Jason Lyons; sound, Jill BC Du Boff