By Sarah Downs

I am apparently the only knucklehead who had no idea that Perfect Crime was not going to be a kind of American version of the  ‘Mousetrap’ , which ran in London for an astounding 70 years – a hearty nugget of a show with quirky characters and clever plot twist, including an ending which changed nightly, succeeded due to its vintage charm and polished execution, kept fresh over time with frequent cast changes.  Or I was hoping for at least a mildly entertaining ‘whodunit’ resonating with 1980’s nostalgia.  Alas, no.  Perfect Crime is a charmless, clueless play that passed its sell-by date 20 years ago.  Between endless monologues, convoluted plot line and extraordinarily maladroit execution, this play is nearly unendurable.  To heap insult upon injury, it runs an immoral two hours.  Well into the first hour I began to feel that if something didn’t happen soon, a real crime might be perpetrated – by me.

 

There is not much point in going over the plot, as it seems the goal of playwright Warren Manzi  and/or Director Jeffrey Hyatt was to obfuscate rather than narrate.   Someone is shot.   There’s a man.  There’s a woman.  There’s a detective.  There’s a maniac obsessed with the painting over the fireplace.   There are lots of words.
Catherine Russell has played the central character of Margaret Thorne Brent in all but four performances since the play debuted in 1987.  It’s a feat of dubious value, but an impressive World Record nonetheless.  Russell delivers her lines at lightning speed, in a relentless sing-song intonation that makes her seem insane.  All meaning is lost in these line readings.  David Butler as her husband W. Harrison Brent also rushes his lines, but he is at least more declamatory in his phrasing.  Unfortunately he also vacillates among a handful of accents throughout.  As Margaret Brent’s psychotherapy patient Lionel McCauley, Charles Geyer is believably nutty as he moves feverishly across the stage, gesturing wildly and garbling his words.  He never seems to finish a single thought.  Also, for some reason most of the play’s exposition takes place in disjointed, one-sided phone conversations.  Watching people flip between calls on hold, tumbling over themselves verbally as if the hounds of hell were snapping at their heels is the opposite of riveting.  
 
If these amateurish performances weren’t so annoying it would be funny – like a dystopian “Waiting for Guffman.”  Then Matt Monaco walks onstage, as the detective investigating the murder, and we’re suddenly in a different play – one where an actor takes his time to speak and move with intention.  It’s like a miracle.  In his valiant effort to moderate the show’s energy, Monaco manages to inject some real theater into the piece, but he is fighting a losing battle.  Worse yet, the play has not been revised to keep pace with the passage of time, resulting in some truly cringey interactions between Russell and Monaco.  If the action isn’t age appropriate then you either have to change the action or change the actors.  It’s as simple as that.
I’m sorry to be so harsh, but there is better use for the money that is being spent producing this show.  Poorly written, poorly executed (with the exception of Matt Monaco) and lacking direction, Perfect Crime is a show whose wheels are just about falling off.  It’s long past time to give another playwright a chance.
Perfect Crime, by Warren Manzi, directed by Jeffrey Hyatt.  With Catherine Russell, Michael Halling, Charles Geyer, David Butler, Patrick Robustelli and Matt Monaco.
At the Theater Center (250 W. 50th St.).  For tickets go to www.perfect-crime.com