Sunday, August 15, 2010


I also reviewed "Murderer" at Firehouse recently. Helluva show, dark, dark funny, if you like that sort of thing.


Taking another’s life is of course the most heinous crime imaginable. Apart from a reality show participant, there is no sub-human creature more loathsome, odious and despicable than a murderer.

And much in the way we’re glued to the crime of reality television, we seem to take an almost lascivious delight in examining every lurid detail of the crimes of murderers: we know its wrong to watch, we know it can’t be good for us, yet we are unable to turn away. We cover our eyes and gasp in horror, all the while peeking between our fingers.

Firehouse Theatre’s production of “Murderer” by Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Frenzy” and the original production of “Sleuth,” has taken that odd repulsion-fascination to its logical conclusion.

Meet Norman Bartholomew, a strange painter with an encyclopedic knowledge of famous murderers. He lives in a village in Dorset, England, caught in a loveless marriage with his carping wife Elizabeth (Theresa Dwyer Reid).

Turns out he might be seeking practical applications for his vast knowledge of the fine art of murder.

The show begins with over 20 minutes of dialogue-free action, beginning with Norman (played by James O’Hagan-Murphy) painting a portrait of his lover Millie (Lindsey Christian) while his wife is away.

As usually happens in these cases, girl meets boy, boy drugs girl, boy dismembers body in the bathtub.

Who hasn’t had a Saturday night like that?

Actually this opening is a brilliant piece of theatre, a silent sketch that encompasses grotesqueries as well as many flashes of humor. The sight of Norman wearing goggles and a butcher’s apron over nothing but boxers and a pair of argyle socks is funny enough--until he takes a break from the dismemberment to make a cup of tea, fussily cutting the crusts off his sandwich before returning to his task.

And while Shaffer’s script is laden with these moments of dark humor, that’s not to say that there isn’t very real and visceral emotion as well. The loathing between husband and wife is palpable, horrific in its own way. And the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between Norman and the village constable Sergeant Stenning (Luke Terry) are also an emotional minefield.

The other great gift the late Shaffer had was his mastery at taking an audience for a ride in one direction, then abruptly spinning the world 180 degrees. Suffice to say that anyone who says they saw what was coming at the end of “Murderer” is as big a liar as your cousin who swears he figured out the secret at the heart of “The Sixth Sense” halfway into the film.

O’Hagan-Murphy stands out in a role that demands a lot from an actor, physically and emotionally. With a gibbering, high-strung laugh a la Jonathan Pryce, his loopy capering could in itself make the show. However, he holds other emotions in reserve, revealing them a bit at a time, playing the varying power relationships well.

As Sergeant Stenning, Luke Terry does yeoman work, largely relegated to playing the straight man, although he clearly has a great deal of fun tormenting Norman with his Columbo- like questions.

Lindsey Christian as Millie is a sweetly vicious airhead, adorably murderous as she pushes Norman to finally put up or shut up with regard to his harpy of a wife. Its unfortunate, then, that her dialect slips are abundant enough to distract from the character.

And finally to the aforementioned harpy: as Elizabeth, Theresa Dwyer Reid is brutally cold and emasculating, a cojones-crusher of a wife. She takes great joy in aiming withering rejoinders at her husband. Aside from going a bit too big at the climax, Reid carries the character with stoicism as well as genuine humanity.

Overall, director Stacey Nelms has put together a fine show that will leave some viewers horrified and others giggling--perhaps imparting a balance of the two to most.

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