What should be a typical afternoon in a unisex hair salon makes an interesting turn when a has-been piano prodigy in the apartment upstairs is murdered. Following a lockdown of the entire building, everyone is prohibited from leaving the premises for routine questioning, making all of them suspects in a crime they may or may not have committed. Flamboyant shop owner Tony (Jordan Ahnquist) is not really that fond of the old woman and goes up to shut her up before she winds up dead. His ditzy bombshell assistant, Barbara (Kate Middleton), is the one to find her old lady friend dead by the piano when she heads to her apartment for a quick visit. Eddie (Gil Brady), an antique salesman interested in the old piano upstairs, also finds himself up there for a while before the murder, with the alibi that he was just using the bathroom. The fourth and last customer, Mrs. Shubert (Lisa McMillan), does not leave the shop during the time of the crime, but receives a really shady phone call that could implicate her as an accessory, or perhaps, even the mastermind. As undercover police officers Nick (Patrick Noonan) and Mike (Jonathan Randell Silver) question the four accused, they break the fourth wall and involve the audience in their investigation, in hopes of finding who the real culprit is.
Their pop culture references are really up-to-date. The likes of Clinton and Trump are brought up more than once, as well as social phenomenon Pokémon Go and the exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7. This is, perhaps, the reason why this is often touted as one of, if not, the longest running non-musicals in theater history, although that recognition belongs to the one running in Boston. The one they currently have off-Broadway is more of a revival. Regardless of the venue or the actors, the intriguing plot and generic setting make sure that the play is adaptable and can stand the test of time. The actors only need to freshen up their ad-lib to add the latest news in order to keep their one-liners timely and relevant.
Plot flexibility is also key to this play’s success, as each of the four suspects are given a legit MO to make it believable that they can commit such a crime. The circumstances also provide a lot of clues, which can lead to the truth or just be summarily dismissed later on as red herrings. If you are the curious type of theater enthusiast, you will surely pay attention to those hints to make the experience more satisfying. This is “America’s favorite comedy whodunit” after all.
In tonight’s show, it was Ahnquist who really stole everyone’s thunder. He had the most ad-libs, interaction with the audience, as well as a real effect on the other members of the cast. He was hilarious and everybody knows it! There is this part where he suddenly kisses Noonan on the lips, and the latter’s face just turned really, really red. Blushing on queue is Oscar/Meryl Streep territory, you know. That is simply hard to fake, which means that it must have been spontaneous. This reaction of his is seen twice, and you can’t help but feel that the fun is all genuine, even for the cast. Seeing them obviously having fun adds a little something more to the production, a kind of happy vibe that transcends the stage.
McMillan is also funny, but mainly because of her lines. The character is that of a chatty old woman who has a penchant for mistaking specific terms for something else, eliciting wild chuckles from the audience. She seems to be the one least possible to be accused based on audience impact because she is such a sweet old lady. Even so, you have to admit that it is intriguing what her MO must be if and when she is voted as the murderer. Among the four suspects, she is the one who seems really detached from the crime.
Toward the one-hour mark, Nick breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience, saying that there will be a fifteen-minute break and that he will be hanging out at the hallway if anyone has questions or theories. During the second act, members of the audience are encouraged to interrogate the defendants themselves, which makes this a really interactive theater experience. Minutes before the end of the show, Nick asks everyone to raise their hands and vote for who they think is guilty, and eventually reveals that it is actually that vote which determines the identity of the killer. What this means is that every show has four possible murderers, a sort of choose-your-own-ending kind of gig. As such, you can watch it several times and still be surprised by the end result.