The program for "Art of Murder," the first production from Thriller Theater, is pocket-sized. The cast biographies are written in teeny-tiny type — but patrons are given a mini-magnifying glass to study the page a la Sherlock Holmes as if it were a vital clue to a crime.
It's a fun touch, matched by similar winks to mystery fans in the show itself — the classic game Clue is spotted front and center on the clever set. A bright blue butterfly flutters, trapped in a Mason jar.
The actors, too, seem to be having fun with Joe DiPietro's Edgar award-winning mystery, though the audience might wish director Tabitha Rox had reined in the high spirits to create greater tension. What "Art of Murder" needs is a bigger dollop of danger.
The plot is from the mold of "Deathtrap," the famed Ira Levin thriller (coincidentally playing across town at Theatre UCF). A couple, both artists, seem to be plotting a murder as the show begins. But then a series of twists and turns makes it fuzzier as to who's really plotting to kill who.
In the case of "Art of Murder," the artists in question are Jack Brooks (John Reid Adams) and his wife, Annie (Jennifer Rea). Jack is a difficult man to put it mildly (other characters put it in words not printable in a family newspaper). They are awaiting the arrival of art dealer Vincent (Jason Newkirk), a deliberately outrageous bon vivant — and there's murder in the air.
Adams is remarkably charismatic as crazed Jack — flopping into a yoga position, popping out of an isolation tank, bellowing "I'm an artist! Never judge me!" It's easy to see why Annie fell for him, and why Vincent thought he could make him a star.
Newkirk starts in high gear and never takes his foot off the gas, even when he should as Vincent's evening turns fraught. But in his comic moments, he owns the stage, prancing about in leopard-skin pants like some gay version of Liza Minnelli (if that isn't redundant).
Rea holds back more than the men, but it adds an appealing and necessary air of inscrutability to Annie. Much more than with the others, there's no telling what she might do next.
All the actors sink their teeth into their roles (Carol Jacqueline Palumbo completes the cast in a smallish role as the Brooks' maid.) If there's some scenery chewing, well, it's forgivable in a caper such as this. But the more flamboyant they get — especially the men — the louder they get. So when the tale requires them to raise their voices in anger, in the small confines of the Breakthrough Theatre the tone doesn't vary — it's just more yelling.
Lighting is basic, which is a shame, because some well-placed spots could make some surprises pop even more. As it is, this loud, in-your-face show still finds thrills. But let me offer a gentle reminder that the occasional quiet and subtle moment can be just as spine-tingling.
'Art of Murder'
• What: Thriller Theater production of the Joe DiPietro mystery
• Where: Breakthrough Theatre, 419A Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
• When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Aug. 24-25; 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26
• Tickets: $20, cash at the door; $18 seniors, students and anyone dressed as Columbo
• Call: 407-920-4034
• Online: facebook.com/thrillertheaterCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun