If it were remotely possible to cross Keystone Cop’s slapstick humour with the animated energy of Looney Tunes, the result would be St. Albert Theatre Troupe’s version of Murder at the Howard Johnsons.
The full length Ron Clark/Sam Bobrick farce is loaded with just enough pratfalls, buffoonery, exaggerated lust and an implausible plot that it keeps the audience in stitches.
In a quick synopsis, the two-act play revolves around a love triangle. Arlene Miller is stuck in a bad marriage with Paul, a used car salesman. He works seven days a week to give her every material gift she desires. The only thing missing is happiness.
Her lover and dentist, Mitch Lovell, is more adventurous and makes her feel young and beautiful with magical sunsets and moonlight walks.
Arlene asks for a divorce, but Paul refuses. Trouble starts to brew as Arlene persuades Mitch to kill Paul. The plan bombs.
In the second scene, Arlene invites her cuckolded husband to kill Mitch. It turns out her hot-to-trot lover was cheating with the cute dental assistant.
After the second murder attempt fails, the two rivals compare notes and decide to kill Arlene by hanging her on wobbly scaffolding. It’s a hilarious evening of the Three Stooges plus.
Directed by Kandice Laurie, in her first venture with the company, it’s clear the cast had a ball putting this production together. Laurie has a keen ear for the ebb and flow of dialogue and keeps the action perfectly paced.
But mostly she has great instincts in casting three actors that have incredible chemistry.
Allison Walker plays the fickle Arlene as a high-maintenance narcissist that likes to feel she’s in high demand. As a nose-in the air drama queen, she sees herself as the hot centre of the universe and the men are mere players orbiting her world. Rather than being repugnant, Walker brings out Arlene’s softer side as a ditz.
Paul is the guy where nothing ever goes right and Michael Vetsch infuses his nebbish character with a sympathetic charm. You can’t help feel some sympathy for a guy who gets tied to chair, thrown into a bathtub, has champagne spilled on his crotch and climbs onto a hotel window ledge holding a pillow.
Peter Boer, who has been absent from community theatre for eight years, is the perfect sparring partner. Far from being a slimeball as Mitch is often portrayed, Boer’s character projects a slightly befuddled teddy bear quality of a man deeply tormented by the delights and pain of an intense passion. But that doesn’t preclude Mitch from a fear of commitment.
The trio enjoys a series of comedic thrusts and jabs that keeps the farcical momentum going strong. Sometimes community theatre actors try to be funny. That never works.
This bunch is smart and confident in its abilities to set up the joke and deliver the punch lines in a straightforward manner. And it works brilliantly.
Kudos to the production team for creating a set that replicates a fairly typical non-descript hotel room complete with bed, desk, phone and cheap wall art on a practically nothing budget.
Murder at the Howard Johnsons runs at the Kinsmen Banquet Hall on April 30 and May 1, May 5 to 8, and May 12 to 14.
Murder at the Howard Johnsons
St. Albert Theatre Troupe
April 30 and May 1, May 5 to 8, and May 12 to 14
Kinsmen Banquet Hall
47 Riel Dr.
Tickets: Dinner Theatre $50 to $55 Call 780-222-0102