The valiant New Jersey Repertory Theater, always in search of new plays, often gets lucky, but just as often comes up with such an opaque theatrical puzzler as “Love and Murder,” a new play by Arthur Giron. The only saving grace in this hopeless whodunit is a bravely adept cast offering a quartet of cartoon studies that manage to make the two hours somewhat palatable.
Guatemalan servant girl Helen (Guenia Lemos) is a seductively lean illegal alien who attends to the demanding needs of Tex (Liz Zazzi), a blowsy El Paso chanteuse who’s married to a wealthy if dubious doctor (John FitzGibbon). Pivotal troublemaker is state trooper Blackie (Dan Domingues), a bloodthirsty Cree Indian.
In one of the most tasteless sequences in recent theatrical history, the audience is held captive to witness the full-frontal nudity of the police officer being closely examined by the lecherous, doubting physician, who studies his patient through a magnifying glass, poking and prodding as if he were purchasing a horse. However, Domingues’ cop-with-the-heart-of-a-criminal is a cunning, cool and convincing conspirator.
The wide-eyed Zazzi personifies the kind of dumb blonde once the property of Goldie Hawn or, many years ago, the wisecracking Iris Adrian. Unfortunately, she ends up buried in the pine mulch, and her presence is sorely missed. Lemos offers a stealthy account of a lethal hot-blooded viper with a hidden agenda. The perverted doc with sex on the brain is acted with mousey comic abandon by FitzGibbon.
Director Peter Bennett has given the play and his actors a thrust that transcends the murky, muddled plot twists. Fortunately, the gamely adventurous actors manage to upstage a dismal stucco set design furnished with a chaise longue and an old windup gramophone.