Death take a holiday as UCP stages debut of Murder at the Howard Johnsons

 

 The iconic Howard Johnsons motel chain is just as much a symbol of the 1970’s as disco fever and polyester bell bottoms.

In their classic, and hilarious comedy, Murder at the Howard Johnsons, authors Sam Bobrick and Ron Clark have set up a wickedly funny 70s love triangle, contained in one of that venerable motel chain’s rooms, and let it play out with a gentle hint of homicide. Consequently audiences can look forward to a laughter-filled event as they discover whether ‘all’s fair in love..” for the play’s tangled romantic trio.

Murder at the Howard Johnsons is the second production of Upper Canada Playhouse’s summer, which is already off to a record breaking start: the show opens at the theatre on Saturday, July 4. 

Firmly set in the 1970s, the time period in which the play was originally written, this is the 70s “as my parents would have experienced them,” explained veteran director and Emmy award winner, Jesse Collins, who is staging Murder

“This is a 70s that was a lot more Engelbert Humperdinck than the BeeGees as far as these characters are concerned. It’s a time when themes like self help, self realization, and the “Me” generation were born. And it is fascinating to see, a couple of decades later, how this satirical commentary is still relevant. There was more to the 70s than big cars, disco balls and wide collars,” Collins said.

“This play is hilarious,” added Playhouse artistic director, Donnie Bowes. “The authors have this great sense of the bizarre: everything in the play is slightly off beat, and very, very funny. It has elements of farce, but it’s not a door slammer. Audiences have simply loved this play.”

The UCP cast is made up of Playhouse veterans. Susan Greenfield, who plays Arlene, “struggling to find herself,” has appeared in the hits Bedtime Stories (also directed by Jesse Collins), Chapter Two and Perfect Wedding at the Playhouse.

Jamie Williams, will be a welcome and familiar face to audiences. He has appeared at the Playhouse in such hits as Run For Your Wife and It Runs in the Family. He will play the ultra conservative husband, Paul, who finds himself at the wrong end of a murder plot.

Rounding out the cast is Timm Hughes, who wowed audiences in Hotbed Hotel and Dear Santa, and plays dentist and man about town, Mitchell, the third side of a romantic triangle. “Mitchell is kind of self-indulgent, and he believes he has a chance to be a little larger than life.” 

“Paul Miller is married to Arlene,” Jesse Collins said. “But she’s having an affair with their dentist. She and the dentist somehow decide that to pursue the life of fun and leisure they envision, they will have to get rid of the husband.” 

“All the scenes are set on national high holidays,” Collins explained. “These holidays are central to the heightened situations, and give the play a kind of episodic feeling, a little like sitcoms. 

All sorts of people are repeatedly trying to kill each other in various ways. These attempted murders get more and more elaborate and more and more poorly executed – no pun intended!”

“Sitcoms are one of my favourite forms,” Bowes added. “You can literally do anything in them, move from comedy to pathos and back again.”

The 1970’s set for Murder at the Howard Johnstons was designed by John Thompson, who has created some of the Playhouse’s most memorable sets over the last few years. He “had a lot of fun working with colours and designs,” said Bowes.

“And the costumes in this show are fantastic,” Susan Greenfield added. “Big bell bottoms, bomber jackets, polyester and corduroy. Alex Amini, who found them for us, is wonderful.” 

Jesse Collins directed a production of this particular play for the Harbour Lights theatre, and jumped at the opportunity to stage the show at Upper Canada Playhouse. 

“It’s one of those plays, that when you put it on its feet, it just runs away with itself. Audiences simply love it.”

Bobrick and Clarke’s writing is “economical and crisp” according to Collins and Bowes. Bobrick, wrote for such varied television shows as Get Smart, The Andy Griffith Show and the Smothers Brothers. 

“For my part, my plays are comedies,” wrote Sam Bobrick. “There is nothing more satisfying to me than to sit in the audience and listen to people laugh. My main goal has always been to entertain, to have people leaving the theatre feeling good.”

Murder at the Howard Johnsons runs at UCP July 4-28. Contact the box office at 613-543-3713 or 1-877-550-3650.

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