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Comic Thriller?

Not much murder or mystery at SCT

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In Marriage Is Murder, a divorced couple of writers get together again strictly for the purpose of writing another novel about their fictional super sleuth, Miss Charlotte "Charlie" Hayakawa. Nick Hall's convoluted script about Paul and Polly Butler is a real mystery. Unfortunately, the more pressing mystery for local audiences is why experienced theater folks like Debbie Hoover, who directed this play for Stage Coach, and her husband, director and actor Rick Hoover, chose to put this clunker on the boards at Stage Coach Theatre. As a one-set, two-person play, Marriage Is Murder probably appeals to busy community theaters, and maybe the price is right.

The set, designed by Debbie Hoover, is appropriately seedy and messy as the New York bachelor pad of impoverished Paul Butler. Rick Hoover as Paul brings a certain charm and welcome comic sense to the role. He is energetic and fun, but in spite of the actor's efforts, Paul is not an endearing character.

Bonnie Peacher cleverly displays the devious and manipulative nature of the ex-wife, Polly. Peacher's expressive face and saucy body language telegraph her feelings to the audience, but she frequently seems hesitant and insecure with her lines, and then her projection drops. Without a cast that can handle the rapid-fire banter and whip the thin story line along, they have a real problem with the show's pacing. Another week of rehearsals might have helped speed up this play, but the cast would still be stuck with a repetitious script, idiotic situations, tired jokes and characters who are very hard to care about.

As the Butlers work on their script--we learn a Hollywood studio may film it--they continue their former habit of testing the plausibility of their murders on each other. Stabbed with daggers, shot, poisoned with chocolates and murderous martinis, choked with scarves, bound and gagged--the tests go on.

Will this unlikely couple get back together? Although they occasionally reminisce about their happy early times together, there doesn't seem to be any real affection or attraction behind their bickering, nagging and snarling relationship.

There are some clever lines and comic moments, but much of the humor falls flat because of a lack of spontaneity, making the two-hour and 15-minute show seem even longer.

At the end of the play, a real mystery suddenly appears, but is resolved in the blink of an eye.

While it is always interesting to see a new play or new playwright represented on our local stages, instead of a steady diet of Neil Simon and Rogers and Hammerstein, this "comedy/thriller" is lacking on both counts. It will be interesting to see the company's work on the more entertaining (and better written) comedy The Gazebo, scheduled for October.

By Nick Hall, directed by Debbie Hoover. June 1-4, 8-10. Stage Coach Theatre, Hillcrest Plaza at Orchard and Overland.For info/tickets, call 342-2000.