Jeffrey Hatcher’s Murderers is a theatrical experiment that works, though at first glance you might have your doubts. You might well wonder, for example, if three monologs delivered one each by a trio of actors can possibly be called a play. After all, the actors appear together on stage only twice, first for Murderers’ opening lines (“I am a murderer.” “I am a murderer.” “I am a murderer.”) and second at curtain calls. In fact, the only thing the monologs have in common is their setting—Florida’s Riddle Key Retirement Community—and the fact that each is being delivered by a murderer. Is this really a play, let alone one given thumbs up by the New York Times?

You bet it is, in the hands of the stellar cast assembled at Theatre 40 under the spiffy direction of David Coleman and given particularly noteworthy support by the production’s sound and lighting designers.

It helps that Hatcher, one of our most versatile playwrights, has given each murderer quite a compelling tale to tell.

There’s Gerald (Richard Horvitz), who marries his longtime girlfriend’s dying mother in order not to lose all but twenty percent of her five-million-dollar fortune to taxes—only to find out that she’s not terminally ill after all.

Lucy (Marcia Rodd) is a murderer too, but in her case, she finds a way to make sure that the state of Florida commits her double murder for her.

Murderer number three (Melanie MacQueen) may well be the most sympathetic mass murderer ever, so much so that you find yourself hoping that she gets away with it.

All three actors are perfectly cast, and each holds the audience in the palm of his or her hand from monolog start to monolog finish. Horvitz in particular dazzles by creating a bevy of unique voices for upper-crust characters with names like Spiff, Puss, and Peppar, the latter of whom is a “plaid cummerbund, lampshade at parties type” with a delivery like Carol Channing’s.

Murderers’ set is as simple as they come—basically a sofa and a chair on either side of the Theatre 40 stage (Jeff G. Rack is billed as set consultant). Anything more would be superfluous. It’s Kathi O’Donohue’s lighting design and Bill Froggatt’s sound design, working together with Horvitz, Rodd, and McQueen’s performances, that make Murderers the thrillingly theatrical experience it is. O’Donohue’s lighting not only varies according to the locales being described by each murderer but changes subtly according to the mood of the moment. Froggatt has prepared dozens upon dozens of razor-sharp sound cues, from TV show themes, to clinking glasses, to car engines, to knocks on doors, to the ding that a murderer hears when a clever idea pops into his or her head. Costume designer Joyce Ferrer has created one perfect costume for each killer (two for Rodd, whose housecoat hides elegant evening garb). Froggatt does double duty as stage manager.

In less talented hands than Hatcher’s and those of the folks at Theatre 40, Murderers could easily fizzle. Instead, it sizzles, as well as sparkles and captivates. It’s terrific entertainment for anyone whom the December holidays put in a murderous mood—and isn’t that all of us at one time or another?

Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.
–Steven Stanley
December 8, 2010
Photos: Ed Krieger

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