MURDERER, Cenacle Theatre Company, at Pilsen Theatre. Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth was such a hit in 1970, spawning a host of imitations, that it was not unreasonable for the author to reproduce his own formula five years later. Instead of a failed writer, the hero of Murderer is a failed artist whose hobby is reenacting famous homicides–a game in which his mistress is happy to share. This preoccupation eventually leads him to consider the actual murder of his ball-busting spouse, a clever lady not about to take his plan lying down.

Unfortunately, playgoers of the time also remembered the formula. Not even bloody body parts and two naked women hopping in and out of a bathtub could entice audiences anticipating trickery and suspense into enjoyment of this rerun, and the play proved commercially unsuccessful.

The Cenacle Theatre Company bestows some first-rate talent and industry on a second-rate whodunit. An understudy in the lead role (ensemble regular Bob Peterson, standing in for Paul J. Baio) rendered the tempo a bit erratic at the performance I attended. But Micheal Kott’s brisk direction and ingenious set design combined with focused performances by Hillary Lynn Goldsher as the dominating wife, Sara Laudonia as the airheaded mistress, and Rich Burkinshaw as an enigmatic police inspector make a visit to Pilsen’s gallery district worth the effort.

–Mary Shen Barnidge