ST. CHARLES – Mayhem is on the agenda in Joe DiPietro’s “The Art of Murder,” a combination comedy-mystery now delighting fans of the genre in a well-executed production directed by Jason W. Gerace at Fox Valley Repertory.
The 1999 show, which earned DiPietro an Edgar Award for best mystery play, is light weight and swiftly moving, with a clever plot full of delicious twists and turns.
The playwright knows how to tell a good story, as his earlier, long-running off-Broadway musical comedy hit “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” proves. That play dwelt on the trials and tribulations of singlehood, dating, marriage, loss and heartbreak.
Troubled relationships also are at the heart of “The Art of Murder,” but here the focus has narrowed.
The four-character whodunit features Jack (Stephen Spencer), an abrasive egotist and philanderer who has become a commercially successful artist; his wife, Annie (Mary Winn Heider), a frustrated artist; art dealer Vincent (Ted Hoerl), their calculating agent; and the couple’s put-upon young maid Kate (Bridget Schreiber).
To Vincent, who has a reputation for turning artists into celebrities and profit centers, the ideal client is “famous, productive and dead.” He admits to hyping the mediocre work of an unknown young painter only to abruptly withdraw his support (“promise her everything, give her nothing”) – a move that led her to suicide which, in turn, enhanced the monetary value of her work.
Though Vincent calls him his “No. 1 client,” Jack is convinced that his agent is dragging his feet finding a buyer for his latest creation, which he believes should command a seven-figure price tag.
Giving too much of the plot away would spoil the fun, but suffice it to say there’s plenty to keep audiences guessing. And the talented cast puts forth a solid effort with a good payoff.
Scenic designer Eric Broadwater’s winning set – the artist couple’s living room and studio, including a striking isolation tank designed as an escape from the stress of everyday life – successfully sets the stage for some cunning foul play.
If you go
Where: Fox Valley Repertory at Pheasant Run Resort, 4501 E. Main St., St. Charles
When: Through March 17
Cost: Tickets cost $32 on Fridays (and limited Thursday performances) and $42 on Saturdays and Sundays.