CARLSBAD — If one thing can be said about New Village Arts’ “Murder for Two,” it’s bonkers. Completely, wonderfully so; it’s madcap, energetic, silly and chaotic, which is no small feat considering that the play employs the considerable talents of only two actors.
JD Dumas plays Officer Marcus Moscowicz, who arrives at the scene of novelist Arthur Whitney’s murder, just before the actual detective assigned to the case arrives. Seizing his chance, Moscowicz flexes his investigative muscles while trying not to constantly trip over the body laid out on the ground, invisible to us but not to the detective. Dumas plays the character with an energetic, earnest likability that lends itself well to such a cheerful character.
And then there is Tony Houck as everyone else, just casually stealing nearly every scene he’s in. The man’s truly a chameleon; the speed and skill with which he transitions characters is nothing short of mind-boggling. To denote a change of character, he changes his blocking and usually a single piece of costume, and frankly, it’s a miracle the man didn’t trip over himself in the process.
Houck manages to pull off all kinds of accents and mannerisms; he does a pronounced Southern drawl and limps to play the writer’s wife, puts on a nasal buck-tooth persona for the college student, shuffles around on his knees for child-characters (repositioning his beret to differentiate between them) and adopts a thick German accent for his doctor character. It’s practically impossible to take your eyes off the man.
While Dumas doesn’t get to be as versatile with his own character, the fact that he seems to have chemistry with every one of Houck’s own is impressive in its own right. Not only that, but the two play the piano together like they’ve never been apart off the bench. There is a mirror onstage that allows you to see their hands flying across the keys, letting you know that yes, the playing is genuine, and damn if it isn’t impressive. When Houck flops onto the piano’s cover just to play it on his stomach, at that point you just take it in stride.
While the play itself was quite enjoyable, the theater experience was just a tad bit uncomfortable. Cramped seats make it difficult to move without disturbing the person on your left or right, and the theater also warms up really quickly once filled, so don’t go in wearing layers, and if you do, make sure they are easy to shed. Though the fact that New Village Arts serves cocktails and other assorted drinks of the alcoholic variety — with soda options as well — definitely makes up for any discomfort.
Overall, “Murder for Two” makes for an enjoyable show full of energetic musical numbers — “Steppin’ Out of the Shadows” is particularly colorful and bombastic — skillful piano-playing along with some truly impressive character work at play, and each of those by themselves are more than enough reason to see this show.
“Murder for Two” plays at New Village Arts in Carlsbad until March 1, every Thursday through Sunday. All Thursday showtimes are 7:30 p.m.; Friday showtimes are 8 p.m.; Saturday showtimes are 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday showtimes are 2 p.m. Tickets are $28 for students, $47 for seniors and military and $50 for general audiences.
Alex Wehrung covers Rancho Santa Fe and theatre-related news in North County. He previously reported for The Daily Nexus in Santa Barbara, CA and the Escondido Times-Advocate in Escondido, CA.