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‘Murder at the Howard Johnson’s’ at BTE

March 18, 2012
By JACK FELIX - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

BLOOMSBURG - More than a few Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble patrons must have raised their eyebrows in disbelief when they spotted "Murder at the Howard Johnson's" as one of this season's attractions.

A bust on Broadway (closing after only four performances) and a downright low-brow comedy wouldn't seem to be a likely selection for the nationally acclaimed resident professional ensemble housed in downtown Bloomsburg.

But if last week's opening night audience is any indication, "Murder at the Howard Johnson's" will turn out to be box office gold.

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BTE’s production of “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” has 7:30 p.m. performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and a 3 p.m. curtain Sundays at the Alvina Krause Theatre now through March 25.

BTE's production of "Murder at the Howard Johnson's" has 7:30 p.m. performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and a 3 p.m. curtain Sundays at the Alvina Krause Theatre now through Thursday.

A performance for the hearing impaired is scheduled on March 22.

This freewheeling comedy by Sam Bobrick & Ron Clark is set in a HoJo Motor Inn - set over three holidays - has three murder plots hatched among a husband, Paul, his wife, Alene, and her dentist lover, Mitchell. With twists and turns galore, each becomes the target of murder as alliances shift.

In Act I, it's Christmas Eve 1978, when a middle-aged femme fatale of sorts plots with her skirt-chasing dentist to kill her husband, who won't divorce her because he loves her too much. But a hilarious-but-botched bathtub drowning fails.

In Act II, it's the Fourth of July 1979, and the would-be victim is now the smug dentist, as Arlene convinces her husband to bump off her former and current lover because he hasn't been faithful to her. Although there are fireworks exploding outside, the would-be homicide implodes inside.

In Act III, it's New Year's Eve 1979, and guess who might meet her maker if everything goes right? Yes, old, nagging Arlene, who gets on both her husband's and lover's nerves so much, they build a gallows to hang her. But a flaw in the rope saves the day - and triggers the night's biggest laughs.

James Goode is a swarmy sight to behold with his oh-so-'70s look. As the smug dentist Mitchell, Goode gives the funniest characterization, whether trying to put lipstick on perfectly, or limping around the room after getting a needle full of novocaine jabbed in his butt.

If this sounds low-brow, Goode readily agrees.

"We've known that this play was around for many years and in this - our 34th season - we selected it," he said. "It may be low-brow, but we enjoy doing low-brow as much as high-brow."

At the center of this fractured love triangle, is Elizabeth Dowd as the off-balanced Arlene. Dowd may appear occasionally to be overreaching a bit to project her kookiness, but she is a comical delight donning a blonde wig to act like a bimbo. She is really the core screwball in this screwball comedy.

As Paul, the used car salesman, Gerard Stropnicky quickly sells himself to the audience with his dry humor and self composure. Stropnicky garners his share of laughs as he devours lots of KFC while hiding in the closet, crawling out on the window ledge, complaining about bird poo on his shirt and having a heart attack with unexpected results.

An insert in the program notes bids farewell to Gerard Stropnicky. A co-founder of BTE, Stropnicky has acted in over 100 plays since making his debut in 1978 and directed 33 plays.

Stropnicky is retiring from BTE to explore "making theatre with other folks in other places."

BTE's Richie Cannady directs this fast-paced comedy. It's billed as running about two hours, "depending on how long you laugh."

"Richie has a keen eye for comedy," Goode said.

Good pacing makes this breezy comedy even breezier as the cast does the sight gags and shtick with laugh-out loud antics.

The ruffled tux shirts and dresses are '70s looking, with an appropriate HoJo motel room setting. Only the often dimming and raising of the stage lights was unnecessary and distracting.

If anyone believes that BTE never lets its hair down, check into the "Howard Johnson's," located at 226 Centre St. downtown. There, you will find attempted murder can make for a hilariously crazy, entertaining evening.

For more information, call 800-282-0283 or 784-8181.



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