Murderer on the Hill District, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Within the first 15 minutes of Rob Penny’s campy soap opera anyone can finger the perpetrator. After that, the fun you’ll have will depend on the liveliness of your fellow theatergoers. Like a 50s sci-fi second feature, this murder mystery cries out for audience participation.
The mystery to be cracked is the murder of Jamie Hathaway, a churchgoing ladies’ man. Hathaway was so blasphemous that he had an affair with the preacher’s wife, so bold that he’d wink at the cuckolded minister, and so depraved that he solicited a mother-daughter menage a trois. You would have killed him yourself. Detective Kumako Victorious (Amos Ellis) must discover who done it. Victorious is descended from Maroons–escaped slaves who created cultural enclaves in the Caribbean. His family of detectives possesses special spirituality, and their loving consciousness exposes churchgoers as hedonistic hypocrites.
The actor currently known as Rich plays a gay-minstrel church secretary with the flame turned way past burn-baby-burn, pandering for easy phobic laughs. But Shasta Phillips, who’s becoming Chicago’s Lucille Ball, runs away with every scene she’s in. Murderer on the Hill District is intimate, uneven, and earnest in its amateurism. Its familiarity and predictability are actually comforting, however, dissolving the wall between actors and audience. It’s like a family production put on by cousins to entertain the aunts and uncles. Just don’t mention the menage a trois to grandma.