The line between comic silliness and comic stupidity is a treacherous one, and it's too often carelessly (and sometimes intentionally) crossed by playwrights, directors and actors.
It would have been very easy for everyone involved in the Island Players' current production of "The Murder Room" to cross that line. But the play and the production never -- ok, almost never -- stray into stupidity.
The result is a fast-paced and delightful couple of hours of light but fulfilling and even intelligent entertainment.
Jack Sharkey's play is essentially a farce, so the specifics of the plot are complicated and essentially inconsequential. They're just an excuse for the barrage of jokes and mix-ups.
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Essentially, you've got a newlywed bride who's intent on killing her elderly husband for his money. But he's a lot smarter than she is, so he stays a step ahead of her murder plots.
It turns out that, since he's aware of her intentions, hubby has altered his will. So the bride tries to murder her husband's daughter, who seems to stand between her and the money. But the daughter, who's smarter than almost no one on the planet, still manages to avoid becoming dead.
Sharkey throws in a truckload of plot complications -- hidden rooms and secret doorways, mistaken identities and amnesia -- that keep the proceedings extra ridiculous. (The amnesia thing is where the play starts to cross that line just a bit into stupidity, but it only factors into the resolution, so it scarcely matters.)
Best of all, Sharkey has provided a steady stream of clever lines and witty wordplay that's sometimes reminiscent of the Marx Brothers.
The Island Players production, directed by James Thaggard, hits all the right notes. It's heavily stylized acting that both pays homage to and makes fun of 1930s murder mysteries, but Thaggard and his cast never take it over the top.
The whole cast is good, but the clear standout is Haley Hines, a 16-year-old actor who plays the vacuous daughter. Her comic timing is just about perfect and her style captures the essence of classic comediennes of the screwball era. Jennifer Caldwell and Laura Morales are also especially strong as the gold-digging bride and the live-in housekeeper.
The production has a couple of significant flaws. Most notably -- very minor spoiler here -- one actor is supposed to play a young man disguised as an old man, but he looks exactly the same age in his disguise as out of it, and it's hard to believe none of the other characters can tell it's the same guy.
It's easy to shrug off such complaints. "The Murder Room" is so funny, and much fun, that you're happy to ignore its imperfections.
Details: Through May 31, Island Players, 10009 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria. Show times: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $20. Information: 941-778-5755, theislandplayers.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.