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Center REP Opens with"Murder for Two" A Wild Typhoon of Comic Energy


By Vince Vmediaa

Posted: 09/6/2019


Center REP opens its 51 season with a frenzy murder mystery that will keep you smiling. MURDER FOR TWO is a two-character spoof by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair who both penned the book & lyrics. The delightful romp is now on stage at the Margaret Lesher stage through October 6th. Directed by Paul Mason Barnes founder of the award winning Oregon Cabaret Theatre. Center REP Artistic Director Michael Butler calls MFT a cocktail celebration "It is a fabulously written musical with two actors, four hands and 13 characters and one piano." Broadway vets Eric Shorey and Eric Van Tielen bring a rich "who done it" to the fast paced wacky musical. It is a season of Murder Mysterys on Bay Area stages, I just had fun at SHN's THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, and THE 39 STEPS out at TheatreWorks, but these two actors bring the best of both to Walnut Creek.

MURDER FOR TWO is a wild typhoon of comedic energy. The murder mystery steamrolls over goofball storylines like the perfect Benny Hill capper. Some of the show's elements are a bit predictable, and a few of the gags don't always work. But driven by vibrant performances from the two Erics and exceptional design work by Bill Clark's set and props, the good-natured tale of bloody murder is a vaudeville hit.

The story at times can be difficult to follow: A Legendary novelist Arthur Whitney's surprise birthday party goes slightly awry when the guest of honor is shot in the head by an unknown killer. Marcus Moscowicz played by the marvelous Eric Van Tielen, a by-the-book cop who really wants to be a detective, takes charge of the investigation. The suspects are many and played with comic class by Eric Shorey include: Whitney's widow, Dahlia, his grad student niece, Steph, ballerina, Barrette Lewis, grumpy psychiatrist, Dr. Griff, and a bickering old couple Murray and Barb. All suspects with only a short window of time to investigate before the real detective shows up, Marcus must plunge head first into a world of criminal lunacy in order to crack the case.

The songs move the fun along including the Marcus song "Protocol Says" and "He Needs a Partner". Both actors are clever on the keys and Shorey sings "It was Her" and becomes a group of preteens singing "A Lot Woise". Both actors show off their keen voices and dance skills. Shorey's passion for playing a dozen roles shines through in his dedicated, madcap performance in which he flips with ease from one character to another. He gives each of the suspects a unique and lively persona using nothing but his physicality, a hat, and a pair of glasses. Watching Shorey twist his face and voice into each new figure is impressive, he wonderfully uses their characters to bring the play's world of mystery to life. Both actors' drive is staggering, and they energize the show with a terrific Agatha Christie punch.

Van Tielen does an excellent job as Marcus the "straight man" stuck in a whirlwind of madness. Van Tielen's "deer in headlights" look reflects the audience's reaction that some of the mystery is not easy to follow. Van Tielen's performance is more than lively enough to keep up with the play's non stop pace. Director Barnes proves to be an excellent maestro. The production could spiral out of control without a steady hand. Barnes' direction includes the audience as one or two are asked to come on stage, and the house lights come up whenever a cell phone goes off.

The musical is centered around the grand piano with the two actors taking turns playing the keys while the other sings. This stripped down approach to the show's over-the-top slapstick comedy gives MURDER FOR TWO a keen vaudevillian feel. Jeff Mockus' sound design layers sound effects into the action of the play with perfect timing. Bill Clark's set is straightforward with plenty of flips and turns that are unexpected. Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's cabaret feel lighting design is bright and uses pools of spot lights to highlight all the character changes for Shorey.

By the time we hear the line, "Excuse me, I need someone to die for me while I play the piano," the audience is exhausted by the hokum. With over 15 songs the most inspired bit in the two hours is the encore ‐ a triumph of four-handed piano virtuosity that closes the case with pageant. MURDER FOR TWO is the best romp to open your fall season of theatre. The musical creates a delightful hilarious "whodunit" that doesn't really matter who did what. Next up at the Center REP is NATIVE GARDENS by Karen Zacarias that opens October 18th. Just announced Lin-Manuel Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS opens May 22, 2020. But in the mean time don't miss the two Erics in the "must see" murder mystery of the fall and bring your own chalk to out line all the bodies!



"Murder for Two" in Walnut Creek Pure Enjoyment

By Sally Hogarty

Posted: 09/09/2019

A prima ballerina, a disagreeable old couple, a young student of criminology, a psychiatrist, members of a boys' choir and many more interesting characters join together for a surprise birthday party. When the guest of honor arrives, however, a shot rings out and the birthday boy falls dead. Sounds like a murder mystery worthy of Agatha Christie but, in this case, there are a lot more laughs than intrigue, given that all the suspects are played by one actor with a second actor playing the two detectives.

Running through Oct. 6 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center, Center Repertory Company's "Murder for Two" is the brainchild of Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair. The two playwright/composers have fashioned a high-energy whodunit that requires two consummate actors who can also play a mean piano.

Fortunately, Center Rep's production has that and then some with Eric Shorey (suspects) and Eric Van Tielen (detectives). Under the exquisite direction of Paul Mason Barnes, the Erics effortlessly move from piano to one character after another and back again. It's amazing to watch their incredible timing as they practically move as one on Bill Clarke's delightful set, well lit by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz.

Center Rep Artistic Director Michael Butler refers to the show as "a high‐octane cocktail of celebration," and he is so right. For an evening of pure enjoyment, not to mention appreciation of flawless talent, call 925-943-SHOW or go to lesherartscenter.org.


"Murder for Two"

By Victor Cordell

Posted: 09/07/2019

Rarely does a small town cop like Marcus Moscowitz have the opportunity to investigate a murder. But when mystery writer Arthur Whitney is shot dead in his home, Marcus insinuates himself into acting as a detective and interrogates the author's guests, all of whom are suspects (note that the dialogue in the play corrects grammar from who to whom several times!). The result is a Center Rep production that is a laugh-a-minute, two-person musical farce that will tickle the funny bones of most audience members.

As a comedy-mystery, the viewer will probably see influences in the plays of Agatha Christie, Pink Panther, Irma Vep, and every other familiar source in the related genres. But in a conceit that distinguishes Joe Kinosian's Murder for Two, all of the suspects are played by one performer who bounces among the various personalities, without the benefit of wardrobe changes or body adornments.

Each of the two actors' performances calls for an abundance of skills —; comedic acting, singing, and professional‐level piano playing, as the two actors accompany themselves through more than a dozen songs that provide additional laughs and advance the storyline.

Eric Van Tielen plays the single role of Marcus adroitly, bringing all of those skills to the table, and providing a foil to each of the eccentric, physically identical suspects. Eric Shorey plays the 13 suspects which include women and children in a tour de force. Using voices, accents, mugging, and well-choreographed movement, including an array of ballet and flexibility moves, Shorey carries them all off with great nonchalance. His versatility and the distinction among his characters is quite an achievement, while the onstage chemistry of the two actors adds synergy.

The plot is nearly inconsequential. The biggest challenge to the viewer is absorbing all of the guests as they are introduced based simply on Shorey's voice and gesticulations. Unsurprisingly, we learn that all of the guests have a motive to murder the host, but the process of eliminating suspects lacks ingenuity or gravity. The action serves more to allow the suspects to reveal their divergent characters —; the wacky widow, the bickering couple, the self-indulgent ballerina, and so forth. The musical numbers are tuneful and funny but not significant, though the recurring "Protocol Says" does serve to keep the officer on track in his investigation. All of the creative staging elements contribute to serve the story well, especially an oft'used bookcase with a hidden revolving door in Bill Clarke's set.

It is important to note that while this is a well‐crafted production of a well-designed and recognized work, it is not for everyone. For theater goers seeking fast-paced, forget-your-troubles entertainment, it will probably fill the bill. For those looking for meaning, social commentary, complexity of character, and the like, it may not fill much of anything.

Murder for Two with book and music by Joe Kinosian and book and lyrics by Kellen Blair is produced by Center Repertory Company and plays at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, CA, through October 6, 2019.



Center REP's "Murder for Two" is the Ultimate Spoof Musical Murder Mystery

By Jan Miller

Posted: 09/06/2019

Center Repertory Company's production of "Murder for Two," currently performing at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, CA. through September 29, is a musical whodunit performed cabaret-theater style by two indefatigable actors. One could say that it is part tag team, part tug of war. Eric Shorey and Eric Van Tielen play all 14 characters and also play the score on the piano, in a smart, jaunty show that transposes the English country-house mystery to small-town America.

Eric Shorey, funny, graceful with natural charm, incredibly limber, and boisterously over-the-top, plays all the suspects. Eric Van Tielen, more of the straight man, though equally suited to the role of the lovable loser getting another chance at redemption, plays would-be Detective Moskowitz, who has his heart broken by a murderous femme fatale and harbours ambitions to be a detective. He seizes his big opportunity to solve a murder when a renowned writer, Arthur Witney, is shot in the head as he arrives for a birthday party that really is a surprise.

Shorey plays all the suspects, from Witney's discontented wife Dahlia, who longs for a comeback in musical theatre, to his mistress, the winsome dancer Barette. Shorey is particularly convincing as Griff, the psychiatrist who turns out to be treating everyone present, and he also portrays three nine-year-old choir members, the sole survivors of a dreadful camping catastrophe.

The men take turns on the piano, accompanying each other when a character trots out one of the show's goofy numbers. Occasionally, a turf battle ensues, but more commonly the fellows amicably share responsibility for providing musical punctuation in a show that is more of a sketch comedy than a traditional musical.

The proceedings unfold before the backdrop of a mansion interior, the kind where "cozy" literary homicides generally occur. But the set's centerpiece is a grand piano, in constant use during a relay-race narrative entwined with songs.

"Murder for Two" is the ultimate spoof musical murder mystery. A two-man tour-de-force stage production with lots of energy, jokes and flair to spare! So, who killed the novelist? It's almost beside the point. The rapid-emphasis on rapid-fire timing, impressive piano playing and all-around silliness and antics are actually endearing. These two enormously gifted actors' talents are undeniable, and the songs they sing at the piano are an entertainment unto themselves.

All in all, "Murder for Two" is magnificently acted, beautifully designed, and flawlessly directed. Put all these elements together and "Murder for Two" is one of the cheeriest theatrical evenings imaginable. It is not to be missed!



"Murder for Two" Gets Good and Silly in Walnut Creek

By Sam Hurwitt

Posted: 09/11/2019

"Murder for Two" is many things at once.

Center REPertory Company's season opener at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts is a farcical murder mystery in which only two people play many roles - or rather one actor plays the detective while the other one plays everybody else. It's also a musical, with music by Joe Kinosian and lyrics by Kellen Blair and a book by both, and both performers switch off on the piano or sometimes play it together.

It's a classic drawing room mystery setup. There's a shot in the dark with a whole lot of suspects in the room and a couple of policemen conveniently nearby, and one of the cops hopes to make detective by solving the murder before the real police detective arrives.

Eric Van Tielen is placidly pleasant as Officer Marcus Moscowicz, a protocol-obsessed small-town cop haunted by a troubled past. Eric Shorey is a terrifically animated and versatile as everybody else the colorful array of suspects, including the dead man's conspicuously unmournful widow craving the spotlight, a seductive femme fatale prima ballerina, a squabbling older couple, a weirdly clingy psychiatrist with boundary issues, an overenthusiastic college student who want sto help solve the case and a few boisterous members of a boys' choir.

The other policeman, who's explicitly not Marcus' partner because he has commitment issues, is played by no one at all, just providing an invisible sounding board for characters to soliloquize to so that we can hear what they're thinking.

There are no costume changes aside from an occasional hat or pair of glasses. Both gents are simply costumed by Trace Dorman in nice suits, with Shorey in a flashier vest and bowtie befitting the eccentricity and poshness of his various characters.

There's a fun running gag about the crowd of people gathered in the room that Marcus hasn't noticed, because of course they're all played by one person. From time to time Marcus approaches Shorey thinking he's talking to one person only to have him leap into life as somebody else altogether.

The dead man is a famous novelist whose books all have amusingly straightforward, on-the-nose titles, and everyone has possible reasons for resenting the way he mined their secrets for material.

The fact that the whole endeavor is a play is never far from the surface. Bill Clarke's eye-catching set evokes an abandoned theater, with a loose-hanging ??????

There are a few things that don't quite click. Although the central couple's niece Steph is a grad student, she's played by Shorey with such a tiny voice and childlike demureness that it's a bit jarring when she becomes a romantic interest.

It's a very cozy murder mystery with very low stakes dramatically. Marcus cares more about his chance to make detective that anyone cares about the dead person or who might be the murderer.

Though Ashland-based director Paul Mason Barnes' staging is entertainingly animated, it takes a while to warm up or elicit much in the way of laughs. It certainly gets there, though. Shorey's depiction of the vampy ballerina is a scream, especially her flamboyantly self-incriminating musical number.

Both performers are talented pianists, and watching them trade off or play around each other on the instrument is a lot of fun.

As musical comedies go it might not exactly slay you, but it's certainly an enjoyable way to kill some time.



Murder set to song at Center REP

By Robert Hall

Posted: 09/11/2019

What would mystery fans do without the isolated county estate packed with a collection of shady guests and furnished with at least one dead body, preferably a murdered one? Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which has been playing continuously in London for 50 years, is the classic of the type, and it's been imitated many times, both in horror-show style and with a wink-wink grin.

Murder for Two, a new version of the genre, is now romping on Center REP's stage in Walnut Creek. It features the necessary isolated country manse, Whitney House, and the necessary dead body, shot through the forehead. The corpse turns out to be famous novelist, Arthur Whitney, and the guests have motored in to celebrate his birthday. There are a half dozen of them, but only two male actors in view, so it doesn't take a detective to deduce that they'll have to fill all the parts, male and female.

It's a recipe for fun, and Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, who devised the story, the songs and the lyrics, deliver plenty of it. They have a well-known precedent: Charles Ludlam's campy The Mystery of Irma Rep (Berkeley Rep did it a few years back), set at Mandacrest Manor, in which two actors play eight characters who go through thirty-five costume changes. It's not a musical, as Murder for Two is, but both are enjoyably silly.

Murder for Two begins with a bang, the gunshot that finishes off Arthur Whitney, whose corpse is represented by a chalked outline center stage. Small town cop, Marcus Moskowitz, shows up with his partner, Lou. Longing to prove his sleuthing capabilities before the real detective shows up, he sets out to discover the murderer. There are plenty of possibilities, including Whitney's wife, Dahlia, a prima ballerina named Barrette Lewis, and Dr. Griff, a psychiatrist who has treated just about everyone present. There's also a boy's chorus (you read that right), an eager niece, and a curmudgeonly older couple.

It turns out that Whitney featured all of them, in thinly disguised form, in his novels. Could that be a motive for murder?

The delightfully surreal play—it's fun not taking anything seriously—is smartly directed by Paul Mason Barnes, on a versatile, fold-out set by Bill Clarke featuring a grand piano on which the performers both play and sometimes loll or dance. Tracy Dorman did the costumes, Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz the lighting, and Jeff Mockus the sound.

As detective Moscowitz, Eric Van Tielen is serviceably likable, but the star of the show is the prodigious Eric Shorey playing, well, everybody else (except the dead guy, whose white-chalked outline lies center stage). Shorey switches parts in the blink of an eye, and without changing costumes except for pushing a pair of glasses up and down and donning a kid's hat. He's spry and sly and lightning fast, and his funniest and most eye-popping role is as ballerina Barrette, who pirouettes and jetees all over the stage. He's a phenomenon who makes you laugh while your eyes bug out.

Murder for Two plays at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek until October 6th, followed by Karen Zacharias's Native Gardens. For tickets/information call 925-943-7469 or visit CenterRep.org