Murder most humorous

Theater

Review: `No Way To Treat a Lady,' at Western Maryland College's Theatre on the Hill, is a campy musical.

August 09, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Murder sprees are far from funny, but in Douglas J. Cohen's offbeat musical "No Way To Treat a Lady," the multiple homicides are not only humorous, they're something to sing about.

Based on a William Goldman novel that was, in turn, the source of a 1968 movie starring Rod Steiger and George Segal, the small-scale musical is receiving its Maryland premiere at Theatre on the Hill. And, though Josh Selzer's direction is a bit slow in setting the show's quirky tone, once it's established, the production delivers its own warped brand of campy fun.

The plot pits two mama's boys against each other. Ray Ficca plays nebbishy Mo Brummell, a 30-something New York city detective who still lives with his nagging mother. His quarry is a frustrated actor named Christopher Gill, played by a preening Charlie Smith.

The son of a recently deceased, great actress, Gill is also determined to make headlines in the New York Times. But because his acting ability will never earn him newsprint, Gill tries a different type of performance -- donning various disguises and accents to win the trust of unsuspecting women, whom he then strangles.

The musical is a genuine Freudian delight, with casting that reinforces the mother complexes of both its lead characters. A single actress -- comically versatile Julie Herber -- not only plays all of Gill's victims, but also his late mother, as well as Detective Brummell's mother. Liz Bennett completes the cast as a rich, perky socialite who falls in love with Brummell.

Although the Steiger movie terrified me when it came out, the musical -- filled with corny puns and kitschy scenes -- is aiming for something closer to "Little Shop of Horrors." The result is neither as theatrically clever nor as musically accomplished as that off-Broadway hit. But while "No Way To Treat a Lady" may not be a killer comedy, it has a certain sick and silly charm, and Theatre on the Hill deserves credit for taking a chance with such risky material.

Theatre on the Hill performs at Western Maryland College, Alumni Hall, 2 College Hill, Westminster. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $18. Call 410-857-2448.

Quite a clip

Speaking of comic mysteries, down in D.C., there's madness in the air. "Shear Madness," that is. The comedy-murder mystery celebrates its 12th anniversary at Washington's Kennedy Center on Thursday. The longest-running show in Kennedy Center history, "Shear Madness" opened Aug. 12, 1987, for what was intended to be a 12-week engagement. Since then, it has been seen by almost 1.5 million people.

Set in a unisex hair salon, the audience-participation show has employed more than 150 actors in its dozen years, during which it has used more than 5,000 cans of shaving cream and 4,000 ounces of shampoo and conditioner.

The Washington engagement is not the show's longest. That distinction is held by the Boston production, now in its 20th year, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running non-musical in the history of American theater.

The Kennedy Center production will be the site of a celebration of another kind Aug. 29. Theatergoers Katherine K. Clark and Bradley S. Rosenberg will be married on stage during the matinee. The bride and groom have purchased all 399 seats for their guests.

"Shear Madness" is performed in the Kennedy Center Theater Lab at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 9 p.m. Fridays, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays, and 3: 30 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25-$29. Call 800-444-1324.

The road to New York

August Wilson's "Jitney," which broke box-office records last winter at Center Stage, has mapped out its journey to New York. Directed by Center Stage associate artist Marion McClinton, the production ended an extended run at Chicago's Goodman Theatre yesterday. In February, it travels to Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum. Finally, in April, "Jitney" will arrive at the off-Broadway theater Second Stage.

McClinton is currently at Second Stage directing another play, Cheryl L. West's "Jar the Floor," which opens there Wednesday.

Mysteries appeal

Broadway director Leonard Foglia and former New York Times and Washington Post theater critic David Richards, co-authors of a pair of mystery novels, will present two programs as part of a benefit for Totem Pole Playhouse at the Fayetteville, Pa., theater on Saturday.

The authors, who based their first novel, "1 Ragged Ridge Road," on the area around Totem Pole, are returning to the theater to express their gratitude to the community. Their latest novel, "Face Down in the Park" -- about the victim of an attempted murder who suddenly finds himself enmeshed in the world of the Hollywood glitterati -- was published in March.

The writers' appearance coincides with the theater's production of James Yaffe's thriller "Cliffhanger," which stars Baltimore actor Wil Love and is directed by Baltimorean Carl Schurr, Totem Pole's artistic director.

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