Ax of Murder is the kind of play that if you like that kind of play, you'll like it.
If not, well. …
In short (and this play is 100 minutes short, including intermission), Ax of Murder is about a theater troupe gathering on a stage with pieces of old sets scattered around to talk about what play they'll do next.
A melodramatic, pompous playwright named Colin Chambers (Patrick Gonzalez) arrives with a bag of scripts, including one named Ax of Murder that he warns the troupe to avoid "because it's haunted."
Seems that a man was found dead at the foot of some steps in the theater two years earlier. Chambers insists he was murdered and that the solution to the murder will mysteriously appear in the haunted script.
No-nonsense director Bonnie Bagwell (Mickey Mandel) scoffs, but some members of the six-member troupe believe Chambers.
There's lots of screaming, running up and down the aisles, dimmed lights, red herrings, a self-important detective (Peter Clapsis), fresh, bloody bodies, and — surprise! — a surprise ending that is actually quite clever.
The mostly young cast has a lot of fun with it, as did several members of the opening night audience, who were repeatedly consulted for opinions and warned of dire doings in their midst.
It's easy to imagine a middle or junior high school crowd loving all the mayhem, but the predominately mature audiences at Stage West may find it tedious and trite.
Director Angela Sarabia's players do all they can to jazz up the thin script with asides, ad libs, stage business and the like, especially Clapsis, who does double and triple takes down the cleavage of the well-endowed Phaedra Parks (Megan Perry), prolonging the moment like a latter-day Jackie Gleason.
There's some delightful hamming it up by troupers Emilee Andrade as the squeaky Lucille; Star Verosic as the dumb blonde Taylor Merridew; Lizz Voorhees as the erstwhile cleaning lady Marilu O'Connor and her sidekick Ryan Rogers as Billy Bob Lanford.
Elizabeth Cramton has a fine time as the mysterious medium Cassandra Tyree; the ever-dependable Dave Stenger is convincing as lighting technician Phil Jenkins; and Mitchell Gonzalez gets some of the best lines as Phaedra's hubby, Brady Parks.
Playwright Pat Cook squeezed everything possible from a flimsy premise, but the tossed-together feel might have been better suited to the theater's smaller venue and lower prices.