Review for "Murder at the Howard Johnson's," Pocket Sandwich Theatre, Carrollton

 Murder at the Howard Johnson’s

By Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick
Directed by Becki McDonald
Produced by Pocket Sandwich Theatre

Reviewed by David Ellivloc

Wishes can come true!  At the end of a delightful January evening in historic downtown Carrollton with Dracula The Melodrama at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre, which was my first ever evening at the Pocket, yours truly was left with a fervent wish to return and see the theater’s next offering, Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.  And what a marvelous time I had upon my return “one dark and stormy night” in March during a host of tornado warnings and watches.

The Pocket is a wonderfully inviting and comfortable venue with booths, tables, and seats racked along seemingly endless bar-like surfaces, good seats all, upon all of which wait staff, happy, friendly eager wait staff, will set tasty food and beverages, both adult and otherwise, including lovely pitchers of beer should you be so inclined. Going to the Pocket Sandwich Theatre is an event, not merely an evening of theater and, as you might expect given the place’s name, the sandwiches are great, including the Reuben on rye that I wolfed down, or rather washed down with a shared pitcher of beer.

Note, that you are not required to buy food or drink.  However, if one comes early, say at 6:30 pm as we did, then you can have a genuinely enjoyable conversation before the show, given you come with the right peeps, as well as good eats and drinks.  And, certainly, you could arrive much closer to the 8 o’clock curtain and order and eat and drink during the show, without the pre-show good and welfare.

Now, every other show at the theater is a melodrama, meaning you get to hiss, boo and throw popcorn at the villains and cheer on the heroes of the story.  Murder at the Howard Johnson’s is not a melodrama, but rather a marvelously fun romp with three talented actors with great comic chops.  At the very top of the show, we’re introduced to our fiendishly funny femme fatale as Mozhgan Haghi’s Arlene Miller, who nervously waits alone in the convincingly clean and boring room one would expect to have at a Hojo’s, thanks to Rodney Dobbs’ excellent set design.  Joining Arlene is Jake Shanahan’s Mitchell Lavell, a DDS who may or may not be a discount dentist but is definitely a bargain basement Lothario, with whom Arlene is cheating on her husband.  Haghi and Shanahan have excellent chemistry as well as comic timing, including some nice physical comedy, some of which is predicated upon their extreme difference in height.

However, Arlene and Mitchell’s meeting at the Hojo’s is not just another assignation in a long line of furtive hookups, as the errant couple have tricked Arlene’s husband into coming to where they intend to murder him, making it look like an accident.  Storming onto the stage and into the room is Manuel C. Cruz as “Honest” Paul Miller, a fast talking used car salesman who maintains that everyone lies.  All three actors play off each other very well and are gifted physical comedians.  Cruz’s Paul is feisty, funny and far from afraid as he quickly learns why he has truly been called there.  Thereafter, the tables turn and turn and turn, as the three actors, under Becki McDonald’s direction, keep the action fast n’furious.

The chase scene (Yes, that’s right, a chase scene inside a Hojo’s room) between Cruz’s Paul and Shanahan’s Mitchell is alone worth the price of admission.  Other comic highlights for me include Cruz’s Paul and his repeated and varied accusations that Shanahan’s Mitchell is “a baby” (Cruz’s mercurial facial expressions just killed me), Shanahan’s Mitchell protesting that “I’m a dentist, Arlene”, and Haghi’s Arlene as she considers ordering Hojo’s clam strips, which were my absolute childhood favorite food item in the world (Oooooh, the rubbery, sandy, gritty, fried goodness of Hojo’s clam strips!)

Director Becki McDonald, directing her first show at the Pocket, has directed a winner!  Take some time to check-out of your daily grind and check-in to the Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.

Accessible seating: Available

Hearing Devices Available: Not available

Sensory Friendly Showing: Not available

Audience Rating: PG-13 due to references to extramarital sex and some curse words

Production Sound Level: Comfortable

Noises and Visuals to Know About: One off-stage gunshot.

See you at the theater!

David Ellivloc


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