Bloody Murder at Manoa Valley Theatre
May 8, 2013
Photos: Courtesy Manoa Valley Theatre
Humor is a tricky thing. The audience has to be of the same mind and on the same "vibe" as the actors and the playwright, and vice-versa. This is true whether you’re doing subtle and intellectual comedy or farcical slapstick.
Manoa Valley Theatre's latest offering, "Bloody Murder," tends towards the latter, but it’s yearning to be the former.
Written by Ed Sala (who self-directed it at Ocala Civic Theatre in Florida in 2008), the comedy made its world debut in Akron, Ohio, in 2009, to mixed reviews.
The plot spoofs British murder mysteries, specifically Agatha Christie's. Think the board game "Clue" on roller skates.
Six stereotypical murder-mystery characters gather for a weekend retreat at Lady Somerset's lavish English estate: Lady Somerset; Jane, the maid, who also plays the stranded motorist and the nun; Emma Reese, the ingenue, who also plays the mysterious Countess; Devon Tremaine, the drunk actor, who also plays Mr. Woo and El Gato; Major Quimby; and finally, Charles Pomeroy, Lady Somerset's foppish and worthless nephew, who also plays Chief Inspector Phelps. There are also two non-speaking roles of the butler and the police assistant, who go uncredited—the first time I've seen this oversight.
Suddenly, one of the characters is poisoned, and the action—full of double entendres, puns and quick costume changes—takes off from there.
The problem is the script takes an inordinately long time to get to that point (there's a lot of preliminary verbal character set-up), and then, once there, the same point about breaking down the "fourth wall" (the invisible wall that separates the audience from the actors) keeps being made repeatedly in various ways, becoming a sort of one-trick pony for the remainder of the play.
Guest director Elitei Tatafu Jr. employed a lot of foreign accents, some of them more successfully than others (Jane's Irish accent didn't always ring true, and the Countess, for the most part, was incomprehensible); the critical timing needed to pull off such a complex farce was not always present; and then the fine line between being a stereotype and knowing you're a stereotype was crossed a little too often.
But the talented cast and crew obviously worked extremely hard to master the complicated choreography and the convoluted text, so if you just want an excuse to laugh, this will be right up your alley.
Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 East Manoa Rd., 988-6131, manoavalleytheatre.com
Plays through May 19: Wed. - Thu. 7:30 p.m.; Fri. - Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. matinees 4 p.m.
Jackie M. Young has been a freelance writer since 2007, and has been involved in acting, radio and TV for many years. She is a UH graduate.