‘Murder for Two’ Gets Smart Laughs; Poet’s Exile: Review

“Murder for Two,” a musical with at least eight characters for two actors and a Steinway baby grand, falls into that dread summer-fare genre, the Agatha Christie spoof.

Thanks to the elastic skills and collegial charm of those two actors, and a score that’s several cuts above parody, it’s a winning diversion.

We’re in the parlor of a mansion whose esquire, the celebrated local novelist Arthur Whitney, has been found dead.

The suspects (all present, of course) include his dotty wife, a regretful onetime Southern belle; his paramour, an emotive ballerina; a bickering neighbor couple; a psychiatrist; and, to sort it all out, the young-pup policeman aspiring to a detective’s badge.

Everyone save the cop is played by Jeffrey Blumenkrantz, with rubber limbs and eyes capable of going from buggy (the wife) to gruff (any male) in a blink. The flatfoot is played by Brett Ryback, expert at exuding an agreeable confusion.

Very Amusing

Both are skilled pianists, which makes the smart, sharp-witted songs by Joe Kinosian (music) and Kellen Blair (lyrics) all the more entertaining. As one sings, the other performs (sometimes both play). Kinosian and Blair’s score is a good deal better than their book.

Scott Schwartz has staged the show on Beowolf Boritt’s inviting set as if it were one long patter song by Gilbert & Sullivan. It’s most amusing and has already been extended twice.

Through Aug. 25 at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, Broadway near West 76th St. Information: +1-212-2456-4422; http://www.2st.com. Rating: ***1/2

Mahmoud Darwash

Two visiting Israeli companies -- the Arab-Hebrew Theatre Center and Elmina, both from Jaffa -- set the poetry of the late Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwash in a musically dramatic context with “Eyes.” It was a powerful evocation of life, exile and the idea of homeland. Darwash was born in the Kinneret (Galilee) and lived much of his life in Lebanon. He died in 2008.)

“Eyes” was performed at the Wild Project, a jewel box theater in Alphabet City, as part of “Between the Seas,” a festival of Mediterranean arts that ended yesterday.

“My homeland is a suitcase/And a suitcase is my homeland,” Darwash wrote. The company of four used music, movement and a video-camera to create a palpable atmosphere of memory and displacement that focused more on human longing than on politics.

“Between the Seas” is the inspiration of Aktina Stathaki, a Greek-born producer and academic. The offerings were admirably eclectic. Watch for it next time around. Rating: ****

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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