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Some Funny Stuff is Going on on Local Stages

Photo courtesy of B Street Staff
A cast of B Street Theatre acting company regulars stars in "House on Haunted Hill."

Whomever said “dying is easy, comedy is hard,” was half right at best. Comedy is hard, as two shows now on stage prove – one more successfully than the other.

“House on Haunted Hill,” suggested by the 1959 Vincent Price horror film, is an example of funny done exactly right. Adapted by Dave Pierini and the B Street Ensemble, the show is a hilarious, campy comedy that is intelligent in its approach to the source material and smartly tailored to the abilities of its cast. You may be reminded of “The Rocky Horror Show” in its melodramatic narration and its outrageous acceptance of its own weirdness. All it’s missing is that sweet transvestite!

In the play, as in the film, eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (played by Greg Alexander) and his wife Annabelle (Elisabeth Nunziato) have invited five strangers to a “haunted house” party with a $10,000 prize to anyone who can survive the night in the ghost-filled house owned by Watson Pritchard (the incomparable John Lamb, perhaps the most under-appreciated actor in Sacramento).

In addition to Pritchard, the guests include sexy, womanizing test pilot Lance Schroeder (Jason Kuykendall, only half-typecast); magazine columnist Ruth Bridges (Amy Kelly, with the most amazing speech pattern that – as Donald Trump might say – is “unprecedented”; psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Pierini, an actor whose secret weapon is … well, a secret); and secretary Nora Manning (Tara Sissom, the smartest “dumb blonde” actress in the city).

Dr. Trent ostensibly wants to investigate the supernatural, but each of the others needs the money to be reaped by surviving the night. Without giving away too much, with secret passages, a blind housekeeper, vats of acid, falling chandeliers (much scarier than in “Phantom of the Opera”) and flying corpses (or are they?), survival is not assured – for anyone.

Buck Busfield’s direction is inspired, as manic and maniacal as the script. It’s scary good. And I want to see it again.

“House on Haunted Hill” plays through Feb. 17 at the B Street Theatre. Performances are at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $28-$47. The theater is in the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts, 2700 Capitol Ave.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to BStreetTheatre.org.

Stop! You’re Killing Me

When comedy is forced, it’s not as funny as comedy that flows naturally from its source. The musical comedy “Murder for Two,” now at the Sacramento Theatre Company’s Pollock Stage, is one of those plays that tries a little too hard. Not that it’s bad or even unfunny, but it shows the work involved in getting the laughs.

The “Two” in “Murder for Two” is the two characters who comprise the entire cast. One character is a police officer investigating a murder in a small town. The other guy is everybody else – and there are plenty of them.

Paul Helm plays Officer Moscowicz, the small-town cop who dreams of making it to detective (and wouldn’t solving this murder be just the ticket?), and David Taylor Gomes plays The Suspects. Both men play the piano, which is the only musical accompaniment to the merriment. They’re both very good at it.

The plot goes something like this: On the evening of a surprise birthday party for novelist Arthur Whitney (portrayed by a chalk outline on the floor), shots ring out the guy is killed. The nearest “real” detective is an hour away – make that an hour and a half, as this is a 90-minute play – so Officer Moscowicz answers the call.

So, whodunit? Was it Dahlia Whitney, Arthur’s wife (now widow) who resented her husband for halting her acting career once they were married? Maybe it was Barrette Lewis, the prima ballerina who has having an affair with the writer. Or maybe it was Dr. Griff, the psychiatrist who seemed to be treating all the suspects?

The action is frantic; some of the jokes are a little past their sell-by dates; and the best part is the music – songs such as “Protocol Says,” “A Friend Like You” and “A Lot Woise,” stand out. The actors never lose steam as they are made to race through their paces by director Nicole Sterling.

“Murder for Two” is performed at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at STC’s Pollock Stage, through Feb. 10. The theater is at 1419 H St. Tickets are $31-$35.

To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (916) 443-6722 or go to SacTheatre.org.

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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