Dark comedy set in a hotel

February 05, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

"What could be better for Valentine's Day?" asks Dick Hershey, president of Potomac Playmakers, the Hagerstown-based community theater organization celebrating its 78th season. As usual, Hershey is involved in building sets for the upcoming production "Murder at the Howard Johnson's," which opens Friday, Feb. 6, at the Women's Club auditorium.

The 1979 comedy, by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick, is a story of extramarital affairs and murder plots among a dentist, Mitchell Lovell, and his patients, Arlene and Paul Miller.

Despite its plot of murder, adultery, lying and cheating, the "dark" comedy is funny, says director Jeff Wine. He explains the disclaimer that the play may be unsuitable for young children by saying that if it had a movie rating, it probably would be PG-13.


The play has three set changes - rooms in a typical Howard Johnson's motel at Christmastime, the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve.

Tod Williams has a good time portraying Lovell, whom he describes as arrogant - "one of those horrible men who thinks he's God's gift to women."

Williams' dentist has an affair with his patient, Arlene Miller, played by Katherina Smith, a Playmakers newcomer. Arlene and her husband, Paul Miller, acted by John Schaffer of Hagerstown, visit the dentist's office together, and trouble ensues.

Williams thinks his character is more in love with the idea of being in love than really in love.

"These people are so self-absorbed," he says. They are easily distracted and have short attention spans, he adds.

Working on stage with just two other actors is a big responsibility, Williams says. You have to maintain the action, the chemistry and your character's identity, he says.

But the script helps.

"It zips along," Williams says. "There are some wonderful lines."

Schaffer, who was in a Playmakers production 10 years ago, saw the auditions notice and decided to give it another try. He describes his used car dealer character as kind of dull and gloomy and says learning his lines has been a challenge.

"Murder at the Howard Johnson's" is Smith's stage debut, and she's digging into the character of Arlene, who she thinks is having a mid-life crisis.

"She's a nut," Smith laughs, saying that her biggest concern is that she might mess things up for her fellow performers.

"I hope I don't 'break a leg' literally," she says.

Andrea Nemir is the production's assistant director, Ruth Ridenour is doing costumes, Gerry White is technical director, Steve Kershner is on sound, and Katie Mosteller and Amy Martin are helping with set construction.

"Murder at the Howard Johnson's," presented by Potomac Playmakers

8 p.m. Fridays, Feb. 6 and 13, Saturdays, Feb. 7 and 14, and Thursday, Feb. 12; 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8

Women's Club Auditorium
31 S. Prospect St.

Tickets cost $12 for adults; $10 for students and senior citizens. Call 301-797-8182 for reservations.

The play may be unsuitable for young children.

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