Nothing Like A Little Murder…at the Howard Johnsons


 “Do we have the right to take another person’s life,” Arlene Miller plaintively asks her lover, dentist Mitchell Lovell. “Of course not,” he replies impatiently. “That’s why it’s called murder!”

That’s also why audiences can anticipate an evening devoted, in a nicely twisted way, to the theme of homicide as Upper Canada Playhouse stages its second comic production of the summer season, Murder at the Howard Johnsons, which runs until July 20. 

Of course, since this is a comedy, and a very funny one at that, Hannibal Lector, Lizzie Borden and Norman Bates these three, Paul Miller, Arlene Miller and Mitchell Lovell, are not. In fact, their approach to homicide has more overtones of Wile E. Coyote than of Jack the Ripper. Not that the characters in Murder  don’t try to succeed. You might even say they are positively dying to kill.

The play is completely set in the late 1970s, a time of self actualization work shops, of ‘finding’ yourself, of realizing your full potential. The new motto of the decade was “Me first”, and these characters completely embrace that concept. 

Arlene Miller, played by Susan Greefield, is particularly caught up in the whole ‘explore your inner you’ movement. That’s why she has decided to take a lover (the family dentist) and get rid of (literally) her car salesman husband, Paul. “I out grew him…I hadn’t awakened as a person.  Now I’ve blossomed.”

Mitchell (Timm Hughes) the dentist, has a closet of clothing that is an “adventure”, and a hankering to find his soul mate as well, although he plans to try out a number of prospects along the way. “I love women. And I especially love Arlene.”

This quest for ‘self’ is all very confusing to Paul Miller (Jamie Willliams) the husband. Life, he is firmly convinced, is out to “shaft you.” He still has both feet firmly entrenched in the 50s,  choosing to measure the world in grey suits, dollar bills and particularly expensive watches. 

Paul (to Arlene): Name one thing you haven’t got?

Arlene: Happiness!

Paul: Arlene, you are talking about a very small part of life!

The plot of Murder kicks in immediately, and never slows down.

With bizarre logic, in the early minutes of the play, Arlene and Mitchell decide they must “do in’ her husband so they can be together. Paul, the intended victim, is stunned.

Paul: You’re going to kill me! You two amateurs!

Mitchell: We may be amateurs now, but by the time we leave we’ll be seasoned veterans!

It’s the start of a series of delicious homicides that flavour this classic Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick comedy.

In a fast paced two hours, nothing will go the way constantly shifting combinations of conspirators plan. 

Director Jesse Collins demonstrates a sure touch with the timing and characterizations of this show. In spite of the bizarre events on stage, Hughes, Williamson and Greenfield have created fully realized characters. In their own way, why, they almost make the audience nostalgic for the good, old-fashioned selfishness of the 70s!  

On stage murder plots gradually become ever more Rube Goldeberg in their nature and design. By the time that a Howard Johnsons window ledge, some July 4th fire works, a large pillow and a pigeon with loose bowels come to figure into the conspiracies, the hysterical crowd hardly knows for whom of the trio they should be rooting. 

I may have found myself wondering, more than once, just how this whole plot was going to be resolved. I shouldn’t have worried. It has its own logic.

“Why do we keep trying to kill each other? We’re no good at it,” Paul wearily announces. 

His observation stops no one. 

How fortunate for the Playhouse audiences!

Be sure to make a reservation at this Howard Johnsons. But  better beware. The laughter there may kill you. 

Murder at the Howard Johnsons is currently  on stage at Upper Canada Playhouse, until July 20. For tickets and information contact the box office at 613-543-3713 or 1-877-550-3650 or

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