The Tangled Snarl

Murder Me Once

Fremont Center Theatre

“Who Done It’s” have been a staple in entertainment since the first time the curtain rose back in the ancient days of the cave people. And in most cases, the plot keeps you guessing until the very end, when you discover the butler did it.

There’s always been a master detective or a super sharp cop, a sexy dame who keeps the sleuth distracted from the real work, a sleazy hanger on who is a stooge for the real bad guy, and of course, the unexpected villain or villainess – however the author chose to write it.

Not be outdone, The Freemont Centre Theatre has mashed up a couple of yarns featuring Spuds Idaho, a master of detection that could rival the best Mickey Spillane private eye or even National Public Radio’s Guy Noir.

Spoofing the old genre, where the hero does a running commentary of the action, Spuds runs into nefarious characters and gorgeous women, making sure to come up with scandalous similes and murderous metaphors to describe his predicaments. When he first meets grieving widow Leslie Detweiler, he tells the audience she’s “a woman with a heavenly body that made you want to get an ‘A’ in astronomy”. When he meets Myra Fontaine, the widow of Coins Fontaine, he utters that this is “a woman with the kind of shape that makes two great first impressions.” They get worse, (or better, depending on your state of mind at the time)

These widows, and the “colorless” characters around them, serve up a tasty course of detective drama all in black and white – the sets are gray – black and white, the actors wear gray – black and white and the entire production has the look and feel of a black and white B movie from the 1940’s, complete with a suicide note from the victim who was shot, stabbed and poisoned. The Tangled Snarl and Murder Me Once are two one act plays, loosely linked together by Spuds and populated by the type of characters who might show up in a Damon Runyon story playing the whole thing strictly for laughs, as James Reynolds directs the story by Frank Semerano and John Rustan.

In the first, a mysterious package holds a vital clue and the secret of why the victim got killed. The second story casts the murder blame on the widow, suspected of wanting the inheritance, but with two jealous daughters and a butler, the clues are up for grabs. Every performance is so far over the top that it’s too good to miss, with Todd Babcock doing a terrific Spuds that’s a cross of Get Smart, James Cagney and Mike Hammer, as Richard Voigts offers the perfect characterizations of “the butler” complete with accent and stiff upper lip.

The women are great, brooding, mysterious and sexy, and even lovely goofy Ginny, Spuds’ secretary, a starry eyed ditz with a love-hate passion for Spuds, has a special charm. Daphne Bloom plays the kind of girl that would make a boss forget about using a Dictaphone, preferring to explore her shorthand skills.

There is so much sex appeal exploding from Mary Beth Evans as Leslie Detweiler, it would take two companies of firefighters to control the flames, while Arianne Zucker is so volcanic that seismographs go off the scale when she appears.

Catherine Munden as oldest daughter, Chantel Fontaine, is icy and cool, giving new images to the phrase “having it on the rocks,” while Alison McMillan as Saphron Fontaine, youngest daughter, has the childish innocence that makes you want to play house all day long!

Dan Payne is terrific as THE MAN, a two-bit hoodlum whose age is greater than his I.Q. and Roger Davis plays Lt. Angus Brogue, a city detective with an brogue that spans continents, from wanna be Irish to our present Governator’s accent, managing to milk every line for a laugh. All detective stories have a kid, who could be good, but borders on being bad, and Arman Manyan is very good at being a bad kid who sort of helps Spuds, but is more out to help himself. There is a real cop at the end, played by a Guest Appearance officer, who will be different at every performance. With only one line, the Guest got almost as big a hand as Spuds – go figure!

Never mind if the resolution of the plots isn’t as clean as a CSI episode. Prepare for a night of fun and nostalgia (depending on your age), as you go back to the good old days of bad stories with bad actors acting in bad movies – except that in this one, everything is good! And if you want to know who did it – – – you’ll have to come to see!