Whodunits, once a staple of the American commercial and community stage, are so rare these days as to render the small potatoes of “Cold Lang Syne” almost as satisfying as a full meal. Scribe Gregory Blair’s setup is downright classic, with four 30-ish frat buddies and significant others stranded in a snowbound farmhouse on New Year’s Eve when one gets bumped off. And though we don’t get the acting or direction we crave, interest is held through four or five real good jolts, which’ll be enough for undemanding thriller fans.Blair plays fair in terms of setting up murder motives while closing up logical loopholes, though his structure is weakish: Each of the couples is left alone in act one to bring out their conflicts in relatively clunky fashion, yet the mystery ends up hinging on 11th-hour revelations no one hints at earlier. Meanwhile, larger points about bullying and the nature of fraternity are thinly inserted and never quite land, though more texture might come through with more nuanced performances. Only Mikhail Blokh as the token nerd, Sandra Purpuro as his troubled wife and Bobbi Berkmen as a visiting snow bunny seem to know what to do with their hands, while avoiding the pervasive singsong line readings indulged or tolerated by helmer Douglas Green. Complemented by Maura McGuinness’ evocative lighting effects, Mike Jespersen’s solid farmhouse radiates warmth as the party begins and menace thereafter, though it would help if Green had the characters inhabit the room believably instead of constantly standing in a line. And compliments on the hostess’s decor seem unduly generous, considering she’s merely put up 25 balloons. (Unless she’s to be given credit for the mounted game heads and skins gracing the walls.) The uncredited costumes are as flattering on the women as they are utterly ill-fitting on the men.
Ruby Theater at the Complex, Los Angeles; 55 seats; $20 top
An Ipso Facto Theatricals and Pix/See Productions presentation of a play in two acts by Gregory Blair. Directed by Douglas Green. Sets, Mike Jespersen; lighting, Maura McGuinness; production stage manager, Jennifer Potell. Opened, reviewed Nov. 27, 2010. Runs through Jan. 2, 2011. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.
With: Bobbi Berkmen, Mikhail Blokh, Les Brandt, Allen Gamaratti, Michael Harris, Douglas Myers, Holly Montgomery-Webb, Sandra Purpuro, Dwight Turner.