All’s fair in love and murder.
At least, according to the Ladysmith Little Theatre, which is presenting the mad-cap farce Murder at the Howard Johnson’s Feb. 7-24.
Murder at the Howard Johnson’s is described as “a light and funny suspense comedy involving the eternal love triangle.”
Set in the late 1970s at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn, we find Arlene, a middle-aged “femme fatale” and her “self-absorbed, womanizing dentist-lover” plotting to kill her dull and boring husband. Before too long, the tables turn and the plot takes a new twist.
The play, written by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick, is directed by Gordon McInnis, and it stars Ladysmith actors Alan Watt and Maureen Molyneaux and Duncan’s Bill Johnston.
Carol Sparham is one of the producers, and she says working on Murder at the Howard Johnson’s has been a lot of fun.
“There are three actors, and they’ve been excellent to work with, and the show is a lot of fun,” she said. “The play has been done quite a few times, and I think it’s almost funnier now because it goes back to the changes happening in the 1970s; it was probably more serious in the 1970s because they were going through the changes.”
They’ve been rehearsing since October, with a two-week break around Christmas.
“We’re really enjoying the rehearsals, and the actors are just getting better every day,” said Sparham.
“Fun” is also the word director Gordon McInnis uses to describe being part of Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.
“It’s a comedy, and comedies are always great,” he said. “The three cast members are working together really well.”
McInnis says Watt, Molyneaux and Johnston worked on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum together last year. Johnston had done this play before, and when the three actors wanted to do another play together, he suggested Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.
McInnis says, like always, they have a great crew working behind the scenes.
“I think I’ve pretty much worked with all these people at one point in the past,” he said. “My involvement in community theatre is as much social as anything else, and it’s always great when you’ve got a great crew.”
When McInnis was approached to direct Murder at the Howard Johnson’s, he was quick to say yes.
“First of all, I read the script and found it was a lot of fun; it had a lot of one-liners and situational jokes, and I thought this would be a lot of fun to do and fun to work with Alan, Bill and Maureen,” he said. “As we were rehearsing, it became even more fun. The more we took a look at the script and got into it, we found there was a bit more substance than just the jokes. It has a bit of commentaries on the self-help groups that came out in the 1970s. It has some substance about how people find themselves in these situations and try to find themselves – and find themselves in a relationship as well, and we hope we bring some of that out when we do the play. I’m sure we will.”
Johnston plays the dentist-lover in the play. He had done Murder at the Howard Johnson’s before in Victoria, and in that production, he was the husband. He wanted to do the play again because it is so much fun.
“I just think it’s really funny,” he said. “It’s been an awesome experience. Everyone’s worked really hard, and it’s been a great experience from day one.”
Johnston hopes that Murder at the Howard Johnson’s will give audience members a dose of comic relief.
“I just think they’ll come and laugh,” he said. “I hope the audience takes away ‘I had a good time at the theatre.'”
Watt, who plays Arlene’s husband, has enjoyed being part of this play.
“We’ve got a great team of actors and a great crew, and Gord is a great director for comedy,” he said.
Watt says because there are only three actors, it’s a lot of work, as they all have a lot of dialogue, and there’s also a lot of action going on.
“It’s actually difficult because it’s comedy,” he said, adding with a laugh, “Because if it doesn’t work in comedy, it just doesn’t work.”
Watt gets a real sense of community and passion in community theatre because everyone is volunteering.
“Everybody here wants to be here, not because they have to pay their bills but because of the passion and the fun,” he said. “We have a lot of retired professionals who just love doing it. You take the competition out of it and take the stress out of it, and everyone is here because they want to be here. It’s a total choice for them. On Vancouver Island, we’re very fortunate because a lot of retired performers come to the Island to live, but they don’t stop doing it.”
Molyneaux says it’s been interesting being in the middle of the on-stage love triangle. Off the stage, Johnston is a dear friend, and Watt is her partner.
“It’s great because these two are so supportive and fantastic, and the whole crew has been wonderful to work with,” she said.
Molyneaux says she has been learning a lot while doing this play.
“I’ve never been in this much of a farcical play before, so I’m learning how to project my energy and also comedic timing,” she said. “It takes a certain awareness. When you’re on stage, you have to be in the moment to make it believable but you also have to be aware of timing, energy and lines. I’m just learning, learning, learning — and I have excellent teachers.”
Ladysmith Little Theatre presents evening performances of Murder at the Howard Johnson’s Feb. 7-9, 14-16 and 21-23 at 8 p.m., along with matinee performances Feb. 17 and 24 at 2 p.m.
For tickets, visit the theatre’s website or call 250-924-0658.