Lavinia Hart contributed to this review.
The Harlequin Theatre’s current production, Murder for Two, is a raucous, free-wheeling murder mystery in the genre of Physical Theatre. Two actors, he truth of this genre is that the literary value of the text ranks low in merit compared to the amazing physical theatre antics from two highly trained, dedicated and funny actors.
In the latest Harlequin stage offering Murder for Two, the 90-minute production without an intermission, the 2 performers play 13 roles and take turns at the piano and frighting for the octaves.
A small-town police officer dreams of making it to detective – and one fateful night, the opportunity arrives in the form of a dead Great American Novelist. One actor investigates every suspect, and both play the piano. It’s the perfect blend of music, mayhem and murder!
Physical theatre invites to see the invisible world actors create through body language. It’s as if they are saying to the audience “Please believe that murdered civilians litter the floor of this New England mansion because we have shown you through our physical actions how and why they died.” One cannot help but recognize, at one point, the sheer joy of child’s play as we watch a detective attack herself and violently come close to strangling herself to death with her own bare hands. But the audience believes in her struggle and then cheers when she manages to valiantly save her own life. Skill with silliness is a great attribute in live comedy.
Peg and I along with my cousin Lavinia met with members of the Melquist clan. Zeke Melquist is the new children’s doctor in Olympia. We’ve known him ALL of his life, even before! Our elder son married Zeke’s older sister. His family of Bronwyn and two daughters Aurelia and Aubry met us at McMenamins Spar Café for lunch and then walked a hundred feet to the theatre and claimed their front row seats. The afternoon show wasn’t sold out but had a very nicely filled auditorium. The four had front row seats and during one scene actress Katherine Strohmaier enjoined 13-year-old Aubrey to come on stage and portray an actual body on a stage full of invisible bodies. Aubrey did a fine set of death spasms and finally, finally died. Much of the audience gave her a standing ovation at the close.
Jeffrey Cook (he/his) was the scenic designer. The stage felt like a posh, old English manor house complete with bookshelves, classic furniture, baby grand piano in the center. One note of creative genius is the peachy full moon over part of the darkened drawing room. Jeffrey has created scenic work from Seattle to Portland. He even worked for Tacoma Actors Guild, where Peg and I had e season tickets for decades and I was a board member.
Like the two actors in Murder for Two, director Corey McDaniel has worked for many of the local theatres as well. He directed the phenomenal A Christmas Carol last December. We loved his work for A Christmas Carol and the constantly-in-motion Murder for Two.
Grand physical comedy flourished in our culture since the Golden Age of Greece. The rascally namesake of the theatre, Harlequino, exists to this day as a prototype of robust physical comedy. In the original Commedia dell’Arte, stock characters would engage in lazzis of riotous fun and confusion and then, without warning, break into a beautiful rendition of a ballad. When finished, they are magically able to jump right back into the fray. Lucky audiences are the beneficiaries of this love offering of high and low comedy realized through the skill and imagination of director Corey McDaniel, fight director Alyssa Kay, as well as Katherine Strohmaier as the hapless detective and Jon Lutyens as everybody else! They know that laughter is good for what ails you! They have given their best and you are in for a very good time if you can catch a performance.
Both actors have played roles in many of the Seattle theaters . . . like our up-north favorites: Taproot, Book-it, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare, Act and Seattle Rep, and Federal Way’s CenterStage, home of the only area Christmas Panto (Pantomime).
Such are the finest of moments in Murder for Two.
The play runs through April 2nd. Box office info – harlequinproductions.org/box-office-info/