IF YOU GO
What: Warring ex-spouses collaborate on a mystery novel
When: 8 p.m. May 11, 12, 17, 18, 19; 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, May 13.
Where: 2200 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel
Cost: $15 adults; $5 for children 17 and younger
Information: BIG ARTS Marks Box Office at (239) 395-0900, Strauss Theater box office at (239) 472-6862 or bigarts.org
Something Else: $26 package deal available for tickets to "Marriage is Murder" and July show, Neil Simon’s "The Star-Spangled Girl"
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
SANIBEL — Love and marriage. Love and marriage. Go together like … an axe to the head? If you're Paul and Polly Butler, murder - and laughs - hide at every turn in the BIG ARTS Community Players production of "Marriage is Murder."
Nick Hall's chuckle-filled script goes inside the failing-failing-failed marriage of two mildly successful mystery novel writers. After parting ways a year and a half ago, he's washed-up and sleeping around and she's a flop in Hollywood. They get back together to resurrect the Miss Charlotte Hayakawa character that they’d jointly created because the publishing company wants to market the novels (and TV movies) to the Japanese market.
Through six bickering scenes, the pair (June Koc and Peter Stearns) act out the plot of a whole new "Miss Charlie" novel, tear into one another over their marriage and take the "Gotcha!" games of poisoned martinis, loaded pistols and fake knives to new levels.
If audiences have ever read a mystery novel, they will giggle at the complicated setups and towering levels of silliness. Director Angie Koch makes the most of the script's games - letting Koc and Stearns play at swapping the stainless steel martini glasses or sneaking around with any of the various weapons littering the apartment set. The excuses for why a well-heeled Manhattanite would have an axe, a pistol and more in his apartment sound just as (im)plausible on stage as they do in the pages of a Miss Marple novel.
Mystery figures also get repeated call outs; these are some of the sassiest lines of the night, like "Miss Marple is so a virgin!" Or "It's a total marketing concept, beyond Jessica Fletcher."
Koc gives plenty of scorned fury to her Polly - hollering, yelling and sniping. But she's also the clever one - constantly outwitting Paul's attempts to catch her in the murder mystery traps. Koc's smiling "GOTCHA!" whenever one of the traps backfire are some of the night's best moments.
Stearns allows the audience to sympathize with the henpecked Paul. It couldn't have been easy living with Polly - especially after she trashes his novel-in-progress. His dry putdowns - especially those that go over an oblivious Polly's head - make for an amusing evening.
I do wish that Koch and her actors had nudged the slapstick possibilities of the play upward just a bit. While the actors give their lines zip, the play often felt a bit slow and static, even as Paul pulled a huge axe out of a trunk and surprised Polly. Perhaps a chase around the room?
"Marriage is Murder," along with Neil Simon's "The Star-Spangled Girl" in July, are the first of BIG ARTS's revived community theater series. The BIG ARTS Community Players will use local amateur actors and be distinct from the professionals that put on shows like "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Winter Wonderettes" at the BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater.
Looking for some laughs? Or some ideas on how to off that annoying spouse and fix up an airtight alibi? Check out "Marriage is Murder." Paul and Polly Butler will have you in stitches - and one thing is for sure - the Butler really did do it this time!
What's your favorite mystery series? I read every "Bobbsey Twins" novel, just because I wanted a twin! Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.