Since 1986, playwright Jerry Mayer has been quietly having hit after hit (“Aspirin and Elephants,””Almost Perfect,””A Love Affair”) at the Santa Monica Playhouse, focusing on the humor and drama of marriage. His latest, “Killjoy,” takes a different angle on relationships through the filter of a plot-thick murder comedy. Although the first act is long on setup, the second act takes off.
Carol Sterling (Deborah Harmon) fights off thoughts of killing her ex-husband , Victor (Michael Callan). The man, who employs their two grown children (Peter Rofe and Christen Nelson) at his successful Italian restaurant, treats them poorly, which drives her crazy.
He also flaunts his new young wife (Tracy Effinger) and has asked his lawyer, Rick (Michael Horton), to connive a way to reduce his alimony. When Rick professes his love to Carol and suggests they do in Victor, the plot thickens.
Quite lighthearted, with clever twists, the play may not examine love deeply, but Mayer is good at playing with his audience’s sympathies. Director Chris DeCarlo keeps the pace lively, knowing audiences will take little home other than a good time.
Callan adeptly skates his character of Victor along a despicable/redeemable line. Harmon creates a struggling and lovable Carol who’s juggling her attempt to move on with the needs of her children.
Nelson’s daughter Vicki glows with an idealized future where she makes none of her parents’ mistakes. Rofe’s brother Sonny, meanwhile, is played with appropriate hang-dog stature, hounded by Dad.
Horton and Effinger’s characters take “Me-ness” in the Me Generation to its extreme.
Technical credits — an elegant one-room set by Scott Heineman, lighting by James Cooper and sound by Linn Yamaha — are exceptional.