If looks — or thoughts — could kill, most of the cast of “Killjoy” would be on the floor before the end of Act I in this darkly comic revival at the Newport Theater Arts Center. And the audience would die laughing.
Playwright Jerry Mayer — who’s written for such television classics as “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family” and the Bob Newhart and Mary Tyler Moore shows — turned to playwriting late in his career and this script, with its plethora of punch lines, reflects its TV sitcom heritage.
There’s really only one sympathetic character here, and she’s entertaining thoughts of disposing of her blustering ex-husband, the owner of an Italian restaurant who’s dumped her after two decades of wedlock and taken on a preening trophy wife.
All is not as it seems here, however, including both plot and characters.
The skills of director Gigi Fusco Meese are put to the test in this twisting and turning comedy with murder in the air. Meese has assembled a sharply honed cast which excels at the war of words, even if troubled by more than the usual quantity of opening night line fluffs.
Andrea LaVela enacts the prospective murderess — who consults a priest for guidance even though she’s Jewish — with a wry countenance and sharp delivery. Her only failing is the artificiality of her onstage slaps, which miss by a mile.
As the object of her disaffection, Brian J. Page is terrific, spewing insults like Don Rickles all over the stage and sparing no one, least of all his two grown children, to whom he magnanimously bequeaths hand-me-down cars.
Those kids — Jamie Sowers as a sweet prospective bride and Alex DesCombes as a talentless disappointment (at least in his father’s eyes) — gain momentum as the play progresses and figure prominently in the outcome.
Page’s reptilian lawyer, charged with seducing LaVela’s character to cut into Page’s alimony payments, is played with a menacing charm by Mark Kaufman, who’ll surely draw the wrath of any attorney in the audience. It’s often difficult to ascertain whose side he’s really on — and then you’ll be wrong on both counts.
Top marks for pure character projection go to Andrea Paquin as Page’s slimly sexy new bride. Paquin undulates her way around the stage, ruffling feathers along the way, particularly those of her predecessor, and her facial expressions are first rate.
Andrew Otero’s Chicago townhouse setting and mid-1990s costumes are splendidly accomplished. Mitch Atkins’ lighting effects, particularly during LaVela’s conversations with the priest, also are quite effective.
“Killjoy” is a quirky comedy that makes plotting a murder delicious fun in its second appearance in 16 years at the Newport Theater Arts Center.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
Where: Newport Theater Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach
When: At 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays until Dec. 12
Call: (949) 631-0288