Courtesy of Michele Anliker photography
On its surface, the comedic straight play “It’s Only A Murder” by Sam Bobrick - which just opened at The Dio in Pinckney - has the look and feel of an old-fashioned murder mystery. But after about the first twenty minutes, I started to second guess myself as the plot unfolded and eventually the ending went in a wildly unpredictable direction, and I was pulling myself together from laughing at the absurdity of it all.
The 105-minute intermission-less show is the perfect marriage of script and stage. With an intimate scenic design, along with a four person-ensemble, “It’s Only Murder” doesn’t have the splash or hype of something akin to The Dio’s recent successes: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” “Home for the Holidays,” or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” but I’d argue the scaled-down approach and solid direction by Steve DeBruyne puts it in the same company of those beloved productions.
Told over the course of several five to ten-minute segments, “It’s Only A Murder” thrusts us into the lives of lowly CPA pencil pusher Jerome Teppel (Michael Bessom) and his nagging, unappreciative wife Francine (Annabelle Young). The first segment sets up the plot, well, sort of, as Jerome discovers his wife has decided to purchase a shiny new 38 Smith and Wesson revolver from Larry’s Gun Store for the sole reason that it was “on sale.” If that isn’t weird enough, she even went ahead and purchased a plot in a nearby graveyard because “you never know.”
The next day, Jerome begins relaying these oddities to one of his next-door neighbors, Lenore (Molly Cunningham) over lunch, and when the two aren’t arguing over mayo on a ham sandwich, it’s revealed that Lenore’s hubby has been sneaking around with Francine. Enter the shabby Sid Decker (Dale Dobson), a private investigator whose specialty is nailing cheaters and posting the photos on his popular website (He gets over 10k hits a month), and if you think by this point you’ve pegged where the shows heading, you’d be sorely mistaken.
In the spirit of not revealing too many spoilers and the mystery of what makes “It’s Only A Play” truly tick, let’s just say there are numerous double crossings, some craftily designed prison escapes, and, yes, murder. What makes shows like this so infectious is how crazy and wacky the scenarios are and how the characters respond to them. I wasn’t totally vibing with Bessom’s portrayal of the lousy Jerome at first, but as the show goes on, his motivation becomes crystal clear and I started to appreciate his choices, particularly his vocal inflections. Bessom also seems tailor made for the role, and his comedic timing couldn’t be better.
His other half, Annabelle Young, has a blast amping up the selfish and condescending wifey whose agenda is all over the place as the show begins. Bobrick’s script is delicate in that it hints at the forthcoming events, yet the dialogue is so richly textured that you’d need a magnifying glass to read between the lines. In this show, subtext is key. Of course, the other two pawns in this chess match, Dobson and Cunningham, seem totally at ease with themselves and it makes for a breezy presentation.
Dobson, last seen hamming it up at The Dio in “An Act of God,” had me in stitches as the sleazy private eye who is much smarter than he looks, and Cunningham gets to chew on some meaty monologues, including a PSA midway through the show that touches on every topic from politics to the various names society gives vaginas including: “Happy Snapper” and “The Honey Tunnel.” Though a funny inclusion by any standards, it’s the one segment that writer Bobrick throws in that slows down the momentum and pacing of the comedy. Another glaring plot hole stems from the smuggling of grenades into a maximum-security prison. I won’t say the logistics of how that works but know it’s outrageous, and the way DeBruyne stages the sequence is a comedic highlight. Jokes about selling guns to high schoolers and Larry’s Gun Store not requiring background checks strike a timely and topical nerve, though it seems to be coming from a place of parody and not trying to incite a riot.
On the technical side, Matt Tomich has proved he can seemingly turn The Dio’s stage into anything he wants, and though “It’s Only Murder” requires minimum in the way of scenic work, Tomich fills the backgrounds with handy projections and title cards at the top of the set to help guide the audience through each vignette. Shout-outs are in order for Norma Polk’s delightful costumes, and Eileen Obradovich’s terrific props who, alongside Carrie Sayer’s assistant direction, give “It’s Only A Murder” some nice flavor.
I do believe those who purchase tickets for “It’s Only A Murder” are in for a howling time, aided with a delicious dinner buffet prior to the show complete with The Dio’s signature chicken that is to die for. Who knew murder could taste so good?
The Dio's production of It's Only Murder continues through March 1st. For showtimes and to make reservations click here