Joe Kinosian and Martin Landry don’t need to hit the gym for the next few weeks.
Rather, this dynamic duo is getting quite the workout in by portraying a whopping 13 characters (in addition to accompanying themselves on piano) in the musical mystery Murder for Two, which celebrated opening night last Thursday at Bristol Riverside Theatre.
Landry portrays Officer Marcus Moscowicz, an aspiring detective who is first to arrive at the murder scene of novelist Arthur Whitney. He jumps at the chance to solve the crime, but with the help of his silent partner Lou, must investigate 11 suspects, all played by Kinosian.
Not only did Kinosian write Murder for Two, he’s performed this role in the show over 700 times.
“It’s a great workout physically, and it’s very meditative, I find. You can only ever be in the moment, so I feel it calms my mind in a weird way, even though it’s taxing,” Kinosian told The Times hours before the curtain rose on opening night. “And I still really enjoy it. It’s fun to do this part. The challenge is keeping them [the characters] clear because, as my old mentor used to say, ‘An audience cannot laugh if it’s confused.’”
Murder for Two is one act and runs for 90 minutes. Therefore, there’s no time for costume changes. The only time the actors leave the set is for a few-second water break.
“All the characters are just in the room together. It’s all about the voice and the body and making sure that you’re communicating that,” said Kinosian.
For Landry, whose past credits include performances at Bucks County Playhouse and Bucks County Center for the Performing Arts, it’s a thrill to be part of a show that he believes is a “tour de force” for actors. Soon after seeing the production in upstate New York in 2010, he joined the national tour. Landry is one of the few people to experience Murder for Two from all sides.
“I’ve actually played both parts. I started as the suspects. And I’ve actually known Joe Kinosian for over a decade and just kind of followed him around. If he does a job, I want to do the job after him,” said Landry. “It’s a show that, as an actor, it’s richly rewarding. It presents new challenges with every single performance. It never gets old. It gets tiring, but it never gets old. It’s just such a pleasure to make people laugh for my job. I could do this show for a long time to come.”
This is the first mainstage show presented at Bristol Riverside Theatre since COVID-19 abruptly halted Cabaret in March 2020. Kinosian said it’s an honor to have his piece of work chosen to welcome patrons back.
“They could’ve picked Macbeth or Death of a Salesman. But no, they picked the two-person, piano-playing farce. Amy Kaissar, the artistic director, has been saying she really wanted to bring her audiences back with laughter and that’s what our aim is,” said Kinosian. “I’ll be doing my utmost to make people laugh and smile every night. Forget about the world for 90 minutes.”
A particularly special aspect of this presentation of Murder for Two is that the old touring set, which Kinosian described as “stunningly beautiful,” was brought out of storage.
“When you’re an actor, you never expect to get back on the old set, ever. This is like coming back into my childhood home,” he said. “The theater has done about a billion things to combat COVID exposure, so it was one less step. If they could get the old set out, that’s less time people have to spend in the shop building new pieces.”
BRT’s co-producing director Kaissar shared that it’s “exciting, nerve wracking and a big relief” to resume indoor theater.
“This is the first time that most of us have gone this long without making something to share with an audience since we were small children,” she said. “We picked Murder for Two for our return to the stage because it’s pure joy onstage. I’m excited to see the playwright [Kinosian] starring in his own show. We rarely get to meet the playwright at BRT. But for this one, audiences can expect to enjoy the show performed directly by one of the people that conceived it. That’s a very rare privilege.”
Kinosian penned Murder for Two with co-writer Kellen Blair. Following its premiere in May 2011 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Murder for Two was extended four times and later opened at McGinn/Cazale Theatre and New World Stages, in addition to a national tour.
“It’s a show that kind of came of age during the recession when theaters were looking to do a full-book musical but couldn’t afford a huge cast or orchestra,” said Kinosian. “It’s getting done a lot again because it’s a good show for ‘COVID times’ because you only have the two people.”
Kinosian shared some final words on why people should come out to see Murder for Two.
“There’s a lot of important things happening in the world, lots of things to focus on,” he said. “But this is an opportunity to let that go for a little while and just laugh and be with people in a safe way.”
Murder for Two runs through Oct. 10. Tickets are $15 to $55, with discounts available for students and military. A limited number of $10 tickets are available for Bristol Township residents courtesy of Flager & Associates, PC. Audience members must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask. A special performance is set aside for Saturday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m. for those who cannot be vaccinated. A negative COVID test will be required. For tickets and more information, visit brtstage.org or call 215-785-0100. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe Street.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org