‘Murder for Two’ at Chicago Shakes is cute, but the cuteness quickly wears off



Alan Schmuckler accompanies Joe Kinosian’s campy antics in ‘Murder for Two’

Murder for Two is a really cute show. Charming performances, pleasant enough tunes (music by Joe Kinosian and lyrics by Kellen Blair), a mildly amusing murder mystery plot (by Kinosian and Blair), an appealing set (by Scott Davis). For most, it’ll satisfy the need for 90 minutes of harmless entertainment.

Problem is: for me the cuteness wore off pretty quickly, and I longed for something more substantial, more exciting, more off-the-rails whacky.

A well-known novelist has been shot in his mansion during his 60th birthday party. As such things go, all the party guests have motive. Enter Officer Marcus Moscowicz (the pitch-perfect Alan Schmuckler), a rookie cop hoping to use his abilities in solving the murder mystery (in 70 minutes, no less!) as leverage to become a full-blown detective.

As the other actor in this two-hander, Kinosian plays all the suspects, from a bored housewife with showbiz aspirations (and channeling Jane Lynch-esque line readings to great effect) to a psychiatrist with a loosey-goosey application of patient/doctor confidentiality.

And — in an inspired stroke of creativity, and the main reason to see this production — they accompany each other on a shiny, black grand piano.

It’s The Mystery of Irma Vep + 2 Pianos, 4 Hands / Clue: the Movie.

There’s a lot of potential here. The first 20 minutes are fun and funny and right on point. I was laughing and genuinely invested in the story and the performances.

But then something happened. The laughs stopped and I grew detached from the onstage antics.

And then I grew annoyed.

Kinosian is a talented performer, and the audience seemed to like him, but rather than committing heart and soul into each of the nine suspects he portrays, he comes across as a performer fully aware that he’s juggling multiple roles. In fact, more than a few times the script seems to suggest these two guys are fully conscious of the reality of the situation (meaning: they’re aware they’re two guys in a musical whodunit) — which seems like a grave mistake. I wanted to believe — no, I needed to believe — that Schmuckler believes these suspects are real and his desire to solve this crime is critical, and, more importantly, I needed to believe Kinosian’s characters were real people. Otherwise, the joke is sunk.

Rather than a whacky comedy, it was like watching an inside joke that doesn’t really want to let us inside the joke.

And some moments were just clunkers, such as when Schmuckler’s cell started ringing (a call from his cop boss), which caused Kinosian to accost the audience in a LuPone-esque manner. It wasn’t funny the first time, and even less so the next two times. I won’t even discuss the bizarre penultimate disco number that derails the entire tone of the show.

Gosh, I sound grumpy re-reading this post. I mean, the audience seemed to love it. Maybe this sort of thing just isn’t for me?

“Murder for Two” plays through June 19. More info here >

3 thoughts on “‘Murder for Two’ at Chicago Shakes is cute, but the cuteness quickly wears off

  1. I honestly think you just weren’t in the right mindset. I saw it with a group last night and all of us thought it was one of the best shows we’ve seen this year…and we’ve see a ton. Its completely original, incredibly funny, fast paced, with great catchy tunes. You really need to be able to relax and just enjoy 2 amazing actors/musicians/composers in their prime.

  2. I see what you are getting at. However I think you overdid the criticism and missed the courageous and brilliant showmanship delivered. Perhaps, as the 1st commentator suggested, you weren’t in the mood for this kind of thing that night, which is needed for quirky comedies.

    1. I think comedy is such a personal thing — what’s funny to some is offensive or confusing or dull to another. Less so with drama.

      So, if you enjoyed yourself, great! I just thought the self-awareness of the piece made it all too wink-wink-aren’t-we-clever, which I have little tolerance for. But some people love that, and that’s cool.

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