The Art of Murder
This text will be the linkThis text will be the linkI have always been a big fan of mysteries. As far back as junior high school, I was the tall, nerdy guy always carrying around a paperback mystery novel. I finished the entire Agatha Christie cannon before I entered high school and I have never tired of intricately plotted, head-scratching whodunits.
This is why I was delighted to see "The Art of Murder" on Theatre Three’s season lineup. Theatre Three is the only metroplex company that regularly includes a mystery in its lineup; past productions have included "Murder on the Nile" (a classic Christie gem) and the steam-punk influenced "Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood."
Adding further to my anticipation was discovering that "The Art of Murder" won the Best Play at the 2000 Edgar Awards (the Oscars for mysteries) and was written by Tony-winning playwright Joe DiPietro ("Memphis"), who also wrote the book and lyrics for "I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change," the second longest running off-Broadway musical and a Theatre 3 February perennial.
DiPietro sets "Murder" in the art world where Jack Brooks is a hugely successful yet monstrous painter. His long-suffering wife, Annie -- also a painter -- is completely overshadowed by her husband’s fame and abuse. Jack’s flamboyant art dealer, Vincent has been beckoned to Jack and Annie’s country home where Jack intends to murder him. Maybe. The fourth character in the play, Kate, is Jack and Annie’s Irish maid.
Alas, "The Art of Murder" is more like a black velvet by-the-numbers Elvis painting than a genuine work of art. DiPietro seems to be reaching for a "Deathtrap" maze of who’s planning to do what to whom. He doesn’t succeed.
Without a stronger plot the actors don’t have any material to work with. Jordon Willis plays a boorish Jack. Ashton McClearin fares slightly better as Annie. Annie’s role and McClearin’s performance grow stronger under Terry Dobson’s fast-paced direction.
Actor/Director Michael Serrecchia nabs the largest role of Vincent and seems to be having a lot of fun with it. Erica Harte, who has been shining brightly in high-profile roles across Dallas, ("Spring Awakening, "Next to Normal") is wasted in the smallish role of Kate.
Some mystery novels I devour in a few sittings while some I have to labor through. Then there’s that subclass of novels that just don’t hold my interest long enough to finish. "The Art of Murder" is the theatrical equivalent of the latter. Mercifully, it clocks in at less than two hours; any longer and it would be a crime.