Apparently Jeffrey Hatcher has assessed the theatrical situation and found it old. And, apparently, seeing which side his bread was buttered on, he decided to write for that sea of white hair and hearing aids in the audience. “Murderers” addresses their concerns (as he condescendingly interprets them): money, disease, money, death and money. Three monologues, linked primarily by their opening line, “I am a murderer,” and sprinkled with references to old movies and television programs. The show and its easy laughs seem better suited to an afternoon treat at Riddle Key Retirement Community in Florida, the gated, upscale locale of “Murderers,” than to professional theater.
Not that Philadelphia Theater Company hasn’t assembled a trio of pros for this East Coast premiere. Kristine Nielsen reprises the firm-voiced, large-gestured style she used in her recent “Miss Witherspoon,” and Marylouise Burke reprises the befuddled charm and trick voice she used in “Fuddy Meers.” Bland Brent Langdon, who delivers the first monologue, seems miscast as a young, conniving husband.
Much like Hatcher’s equally morbid comedy “Three Viewings,” also comprised of three monologues, “Murderers” foregoes dramatic structure. Choosing instead a narrative style with snatches of other characters quoted in different voices by the monologist, the three stories are not linked by theme or plot, merely by locale. We come to know the community’s streets, the Riddle Key doctor — Indian, of course — hear again and again about the golfcarts, the villas, the pharmacy. Each monologue ends with a snappy little punchline.
“The Well-Dressed Man Is a Murderer” features Langdon in a satin smoking jacket (establishing the faux tony-ness of something like “Murder, She Wrote”) and begins with a promising premise: an old woman, dying of kidney disease, decides to marry her daughter’s boyfriend so that he — and thus her daughter — will inherit her $5 million and thereby sidestep lawyers’ fees, death taxes, etc., when she “kicks.”
Once he’s ensconced in Riddle Key, the man discovers, as the weeks go by, the pleasures of dinner at 5 p.m., of watching “The Young and the Restless,” and napping. But then along comes another “gigolo” who threatens blackmail. Many complications later, changing into a tux for the occasion of his execution, he graciously accepts his comeuppance.
“Margaret Faydle Comes to Town” features Burke as Lucy Stickler (the last name is the monologue’s only joke) in a peach housecoat and pearls. Her husband Bob has been content to watch “Jeopardy” until Margaret, once and always tart, shows up in her signature hat to re-seduce all the husbands she seduced when they were younger. There is another elaborate plot involving prescriptions and concluding with suicide as spite.
“Match Wits With Minka Lupino” shifts to the administrative offices of Riddle Key, where kindly Minka (Nielsen) works for evil Mr. Fenn, who runs the joint, always hoping to rope some dying senior into a five-year lease. As a mystery novel fan, Minka is thrilled when her favorite writer moves in, and after a series of justifiable homicides (thieving nurses, heartless sons, etc.), she finally meets him, describing his “villa” in the style of his pulp fiction. The decrepit novelist guides her through the ultimate plot twist to save the inevitable day.
It is no news that with plays like this and jokes about Viagra, Ex-Lax and betablockers, nobody under 80 will ever want to go to the theater.