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A CurtainUp Review

The Tangled Snarl & Murder Me Once.
By Jana J. Monji

A retired police officer with a taste for the bottle has fallen into a profession that mixes danger, dames and death—private investigation. Spuds Idaho is a master detective who's traded in a cop's uniform for a rumpled suit and the perfume of stale booze.

John Ruston and Frank Semerano have written two affectionate parodies of the 1940s hard-boiled P.I. Director James Reynolds, aided by set designer Victoria Profitt and costume designer Lois Tedrow gets, it more than right— but dead right in this Fremont Centre Theatre production of The Tangled Snarl and Murder Me Once. From Profitt's shades of gray set to the exaggerated linguistic inflections of Todd Babcock as our anti-hero, Spuds Idaho, this production is faultless.

In The Tangled Snarl, Spuds contends with a mysterious package from the dead Legs Flamingo, Flamingo's beautiful widow (Mary Beth Evans), and Spuds' own jealous, ditzy secretary (Daphne Bloomer) as bullets and food-related descriptions fly by with perilous precision. When's the last time you've heard a corpse described as "deader than tuna fish on whole wheat" or "they sent him to the Swiss cheese factory?"

The intermission is followed by the world premiere of Murder Me Once. Here our man Spuds finds himself in the posh home of a suspicious businessman named Coins Fountain who has cashed in. An old flame of Spuds' a young widow (Arianne Zuker) who, along with her two stepdaughters, are suspected of murder. But there is more going on here than just stepdaughters angry over their father marrying a much too young second wife. Older daughter Chantel (Cathrine Munden) is an overachiever whose frigidity may melt under the brash spotlight of Spuds' manly attention and whisky warmed breath. Her sister, Saphron (Alison McMillan), imagines herself to be a Girl Scout, but just what's in those cookies she's selling?

Ruston and Semerano have appropriated the drawing room mystery format and mixed it with a few film noir traditions. The result is an Irish cop (Roger Davis) and the strong possibility that the butler (Richard Voigts) did something. This is a delightfully fun look at mayhem among the rich and infamous. Set designer Profitt has added a slight mauve tone to the grays for an extra visual richness.

Reynolds has choreographed the head-snapping and posturing with comedic precision and the casting is, well, to die for. As Spuds, Babcock spits out each delicious phrase with hyperbolic hard-boiled seriousness like a graduate of the James T. Kirk school of melodrama.

Bloomer is hilarious as the squeaky-voiced, long-suffering girlfriend/secretary. With a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, Zuker gets all the right glamour cues as the young widow, Myra, a woman so beautiful that Spuds "almost wrote a thank you note to God." Evans doesn't miss a chance to smolder as the blonde, bombshell widow of Legs Flamingo. With her strawberry blonde pigtails, McMillan is a perkily, neurotic assassin in a uniform. Munden is tastefully dignified but contorts her mouth into snarls of almost repressed anger as the rigid Chantel.

This production a has the added bonus of a guest star in a non-speaking role. Like many of the actors (Todd Babcock, Bloomer, Evans, Zuker ), that role is usually played by a local soap opera star.

Soap opera fans, film noir lovers and people just looking for a light laugh will have a good time. Anyone not laughing must be "deader than a lobster in butter sauce."

The Tangled Snarl and Murder Me Once
Playwright: Frank Semerano and John Rustan
Director: James Reynolds
Cast: Todd Babcock (Spuds Idaho), Daphne Bloomer (Ginny), Mary Beth Evans (Leslie Detweiler), Dan Payne (The Man), Arman Manyan (The Kid), Richard Voigts (Grieves), Roger Davis (Lt. Angus Brogue), Arianne Zuker (Myra Fontaine), Cathrine Munden (Saphron Fontaine).
Set Design: Victoria Profitt
Costume Design: Lois Tedrow
Lighting Design: Bill E. Kickbush
Sound Design: James Jontz
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with 15-minute intermission
Running dates: Through July 25
Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. $17-$20. (626) 441-5977.
Reviewed by Jana J. Monji on June 25, 2004.
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