One normally doesn’t find nuptials, an apparent murder plot and elegant ballroom dancing all in the same stage production.
However, the Willow Theater at Boca Raton’s Sugar Sand Park has located just such a performance. The show, Marry. Murder. What? opened Friday for a brief, two-weekend South Florida premiere, arriving a month or so after being staged in a workshop at the Flea Theater in Tribeca, New York, under its original name, Marry. Murder. F$&@k!?
It’s well worth a trip to the playhouse in Boca’s recreation area on South Military Trail to see the show that entertains with a comic flair, mystifies the audience with hints of mischief, then presents dance numbers that will certainly appeal to aficionados of terpsichore.
The plot runs something like this, says a press announcement: “Rae Applebaum is caught off-guard when she finds her wealthy, widowed mother [Sophie Applebaum] in the arms of a young, handsome dance instructor [Paolo]. Enter a wacky private detective, who takes us on a hilarious ride, as ballroom dance tells the story of a young woman looking for the truth, herself, and a way back to her mother.”
The show is sprinkled with lots of delicious tidbits. As it turns out, two Boca Raton residents wrote the play – Kim St Leon, who is also the show’s director, and Candace Caplin, the actor/dancer who portrays Sophie – a character that Caplin created during the production’s New York run.
Candace Caplin in Marry Murder What?, now playing at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton.
Audiences shouldn’t be surprised that the on-stage dancing has a very professional flair. Caplin and Ronny Dutra, who portrays Sophie’s dance instructor and love interest, Paolo, compete on the ballroom circuit and are 2019 National Pro-Am Rhythm Champions.
A few other actors round out the cast. Amanda Ortega portrays Rae, Sophie’s suspicious daughter who keeps the show’s action cranking, and Michael Coppola, a well-known, well-heeled local performer whose multiple abilities are spotlighted as he changes costumes, characters – and sometimes genders – to portray a multitude of personalities.
As the show opens, Rae walks downstage toward the audience, telling viewers she is a playwright who desperately needs an ending to her current piece. Things are tough, she admits. Her father has just passed away and “since he’s gone, everything is harder.”
She also frets for her mother, Sophie, who has hooked up with a much-younger dance teacher whom she fears is wooing the elder Applebaum for her money.
Rae is pretty explicit about her worries. She tells mom: “When he [Paolo] was in kindergarten, you were in menopause.”
Beset by various worries, Rae takes her troubles to a psychiatrist (Coppola, in his first appearance) and then visits a private detective named Herschel (Coppola again). She wants the private eye to eyeball the young dancer and determine if he’s plotting to plunder Sophie’s bucks.
Paolo doesn’t seem to help his case. Now and then, he ducks into darkened doorways and talks suspiciously on his cell phone to a stranger. He tells that person he needs “a Lincoln with a trunk big enough for two bodies.” During another call, Paolo talks about needing a quantity of poison.
Herschel and Rae become aware of these shady dealings and both fear something nefarious is going on. To get the goods on the Sophie/Paolo duo, they pose as boyfriend and girlfriend and start hanging with the pair.
The play features several dream dance sequences with Sophie and Paulo. And even though she claims no talent for fancy footwork, Rae shows she really does have toe-tapping ability.
While all this is happening, Wanda – Sophie’s wary maid, also portrayed by Coppola in a black uniform and graying wig – makes her own misgivings about Sophie and Paolo known to others in the cast. Coppola excellently portrays the nosy, but good-hearted housekeeper.
The multi-faceted actor commands the stage again with another portrayal of a female. This time, he flips gender by donning a dress and blond wig to pose as a dance student at Paolo’s studio. The ruse is intended to get the goods on Paolo and his plans.
Director St Leon has fashioned a finale filled with multiple conclusions that wrap up a lot of loose ends – including the truth about Paolo.
Candace Caplin and Ronny Dutra in Marry Murder What?, now playing at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton.
For a small cast, the players provide 90 minutes of fine entertainment. Ortega has written and produced a few short works in New York and admits she’s happy to be part of the South Florida acting community.
Caplin boasts a lengthy stage career of producing a number of plays, including The Brooklyn Boy starring popular actor Avi Hoffman. She has also starred in The Diary of Anne Frank, The Prisoner of Second Avenue and Plaza Suite, among other shows.
Dutra is an actor, producer and dancer – and has excelled in those entertainment genres.
Coppola shines in his varied roles. He’s funny, frantic and, when necessary, cerebral. Originally a performer in New England and New York, he calls South Florida home. He comes to the Willow after completing a run as Bruce Bechdel, the male lead in the intriguing play, Fun Home, at Lake Worth Playhouse.
Ronny Dutra and Amanda Ortega in Marry Murder What?, now playing at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton.