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Murderers in Olympia

It charms and implicates all of us

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They'd none of 'em be missed.

So sings Ko-Ko in Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado - and the house music to Olympia Little Theatre's droll production of Murderers, which closes this weekend.

Co-directors Toni Holm and Kathryn Beall (with an assist from AD Julia VanDerslice) do a fine job of punctuating Jeffrey Hatcher's clever script, but they spend much of their running time fighting a poorly conceived set design.  They're obliged to raze and redress the set between each monologue, whereas presetting (and, in the third case, simplifying) all three sets would've facilitated blocking for their thrust seating arrangement.  Every costume, however, is spot on.

Hatcher has a growing fan base in Oly, with Three Viewings, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Turn of the Screw all staged over the last few years.  This story opens with a candid confession, repeated three times:  "I am a murderer."  And so our narrators are, as told in a trio of thirty-minute monologues:  Brian Jansen plays "The Man Who Married His Mother-in-Law," Barbara-Ann Smith recalls the repercussions when "Margaret Faydle Comes to Town," and Deya Ozburn invites us to "Match Wits with Minka Lupino."

Direct audience address is one of the most deceptively vexing challenges an actor can face, and the results in this production are uneven.  I loved Jansen in OLT's outstanding production of Take Me Out, in which his performance as sports agent Mason Marzack was uproariously vibrant - one of the best I've seen in years - so his flatness on opening night of Murderers may have been an exhausted fluke.  Jansen avoided eye contact with the audience, playing his scenes to the "vom" (exit aisle) instead.  Uncertainty in blocking throughout was most apparent here, as Jansen made little connection with the ends of OLT's horseshoe seating arrangement.  Ozburn added layers of neurotic complexity to mystery fan Minka Lupino, and Smith defeated minor memory lapses to shine as a salty retiree.  All three assume the traits of secondary characters featured in their confessions as well.

Holm and Beall told me they clashed over the basic conceptual question of whether Murderers is a disturbing psychodrama or black comedy.  That's a recipe for disaster, but this production finds the sweet spot between genres, and that makes for a deeper, more rewarding show than either alone.

The program poses the question, "Is murder ever justified?"  Ozburn's "Minka" echoes this query by asking of an admitted killer, "What kind of a person is she?  Is she a murderer?  Really?"  She suggests the idea that not every homicide qualifies.  I suggest most irritants, even those on Ko-Ko's "little list," deserve happier outcomes than a pool of AB positive.

Driving home from OLT, I found myself pondering a slier psychological mystery:  Why do we find clever killers more charismatic, even more forgivable, than garden-variety felons?  We're fascinated by Hannibal Lecter, not because he's a fictional character incapable of doing us harm, but because he's both Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty in his own murder mystery.  Like real-world serial killer Dennis Rader, alias "BTK," Lecter can't wait to seduce us into his homicidal campaign. 

In OLT's production, Smith's septuagenarian assassin makes the most memorable impression here by taking zesty delight in her own machinations.  Indeed, all three of Hatcher's Murderers gain our admiration by charming-thereby implicating-us all.

[Olympia Little Theater, Murderers, through Jan. 24, 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 1:55 p.m. Sunday, $10-$12, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, 360.786.9484] 

Comments for "Murderers in Olympia" (1)

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Erich Brown said on Jan. 22, 2010 at 1:38pm

I thought this review was an accurate description of the play's strengths and weaknesses. I appreciated the back story of the play, the questions asked about characters' intentions and a societal question about murder. Thank you for this review. This will add to a deeper understanding of the playwright, the production and the actors.

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