The cast of Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s production of “Anybody for Murder” includes, seated, from left, Gail Scott, Barbara Anthony, Joseph Alan Johnson, Jennifer Sloane and Brent Ballard; and, standing, Toby Manion.
The devious deeds of shifty schemers make contrived killing comical in Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s new production of “Anybody for Murder,” running through Sunday, Dec. 20, at the Italian-American Club, 200 S. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater.
Seating for performances are Thursday through Sunday, 4 p.m. Seating for matinees are Thursday and Saturday, 11 a.m. Cost for buffet and show is $29.90 plus tax. For reservations, call 446-5898.
Director Robin New has taken this comedy-mystery by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner and put the indelible Early Bird spin on it with many familiar faces in the cast. All of the action takes place in the home of Max and Janet Harrington on a remote, tiny Greek island. Murder is afoot as Max and his lover Suzy Stevens plot to off Janet, collect the insurance money and live happily ever after.
As they attempt to execute their Machiavellian mischief, however, they run into a number of unanticipated obstacles, including ill-timed appearances by neighbor Edgar Chambers – an ouzo-guzzling mystery writer – and the arrival of George and Mary Ticklewell – Janet’s distant relatives – who bring news of a million-dollar legacy.
Joseph Alan Johnson leads the cast as Max, smoothly alternating between a suave and sophisticated conspirator as he wrestles with ever-changing scenarios and a befuddled muttonhead as his assorted intrigues go awry.
Johnson, a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, blends wickedness with wit and crafts a wily yet bemused Max.
After Janet takes a dive into a bowl of corn flakes, poor Barbara Anthony spends much of the play offstage. When she does step into the action, she delivers a crafty performance, toying with both Max and the audience.
Gail Scott’s Suzy Stevens is delightfully ditzy. Scott’s vacant stares and deadpan delivery frame the character’s essential absurdity.
As Edgar Chambers, Toby Manion lumbers drunkenly, slurs his speech and totally engulfs the set in a side-splitting caricature of a “worst-selling” crime fiction novelist. He’s the barfly in the ointment, one minute a witness and the next a complication. His calculated obliviousness makes the character that much more memorable.
As the Ticklewells, Jennifer Sloane and Brent Ballard nearly steal the show. The heated exchanges between the two are a highlight of the production. Ballard’s stuffy and straitlaced George repeatedly displays his chronic subservience to Sloane’s moralistic but merciless character as she formulates her own strategy.
With its shifting victims and villains, its unapologetic malice and its uproarious duplicities, “Anybody for Murder” is guilty of comedy in the first degree.