Where can a play entitled Art of Murder take us when it begins with Annie (whose husband is named Jack) bringing out a six-shooter, taking aim, and proceeding to recite a revised version of the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill” — “Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. But Jill couldn’t take his crap anymore, so she killed him”? Where, indeed, can it take us when, as soon as we meet Jack, we learn of his plot to kill a fellow named Vincent?
This question, and many others are answered in Joe DiPietro’s Art of Murder, which is now playing at the Garner Performing Arts Center. Produced by the Towne Players of Garner and directed by Beth Honeycutt, this play is not a conventional “whodunit.” Rather, it begs to be classified as something like “who-might-or-might-not-do-what-to whom?”
The play is a series of plots, counter-plots, and misdirection. And there are plenty of laughs along the way.
Jack (Jim O’Brien) and Annie Brooks (Ann Forsthoefel) live on a remote Connecticut estate. Jack is one of the most accomplished and eccentric painters of his generation, and we find him awaiting the arrival of Vincent Cummings (Tim Stancil), his flamboyant art dealer. Annie, also painter (presumably an unaccomplished amateur), is calmly applying paint to canvas. The Brooks’ maid, Kate (Shelley Sink), is about to depart for the evening, most likely overnight.
Jack is an authoritarian, abusive husband who also makes lewd passes at Kate (a young woman from Ireland with an advanced degree in chemistry who, because she has not yet received her green card, has been forced to accept employment as a domestic servant). Jack speaks of the serious bones that he has to pick with Vincent. He has an “isolation tank” in his living room into which he often retreats to “get in touch with himself.” And, just in case we have not managed to fathom the extent of his gigantic ego, we hear him refer to himself (repeatedly) as “an artiste” (pronounced “ar-teest”).
SO: Who wants to kill whom? And who will succeed?
As Jack, Jim O’Brien has created the kind of character that we found easy to “love to hate.” Once we understood her plight, Ann Forsthoefel’s Annie quickly gained our sympathy; however, she eventually lost it when her own ruthless, devious nature came to light. Tim Stancil has all-the-right-moves for the gay art dealer. We see relatively little of Shelley Sink’s Kate, but the character seems very vulnerable and earnest.
Technical director A. Scott Honeycutt has designed and built a realistic living room of the Brooks’ home. Included in the set is a monstrous “isolation tank,” designed and built by Jeffrey A. Nugent. Scott Honeycutt’s sound and light cues are also spot-on.
The script contains many laughs, and the actors deliver. And we give it high marks in pacing and comic timing.
This script, however, is not Joe DiPietro’s best. It simply is not is the same class as his previous hits: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Over the River and Through the Woods.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: Kate’s Irish accent was uneven and lacked authenticity. We would recommend either a bit more dialect-coaching or simply playing down her Irish-ness and skipping the accent altogether.
The Towne Players of Garner present ART OF MURDER at 8 p.m. April 19 and 2 p.m. April 20 at the Garner Performing Arts Center (formerly Garner Historic Auditorium), 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina 27529.
TICKETS: Sold at the door. Call 919-779-6144 for individual ticket price and group rates.
INFORMATION: 919-779-6144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: http://www.towneplayers.org/performances/current-season/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/2250515981672582/.
PRESENTER: http://www.towneplayers.org/ https://www.facebook.com/TownePlayersofGarner, and https://twitter.com/towneplayers.
Art of Murder (Teaneck, NJ 1999 play): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3819 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Joe DiPietro (Teaneck, NJ-born New York playwright and lyricist): http://www.joedipietronyc.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/3137 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/joe-dipietro-383115 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2628394/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_DiPietro (Wikipedia).
Beth Honeycutt (Garner, NC director and Towne Players co-founder and artistic director): https://www.facebook.com/beth.honeycutt2 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.