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Pictures at an Execution: Theatre Three's The Art of Murder Offers Brush with Bad Farce

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A new musical with a book by Joe DiPietro opened this week on Broadway. It's called Nice Work If You Can Get It and it stars Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara singing Flapper Era songs by George and Ira Gershwin. The New York Times' critic Ben Brantley compared it to Billy Wilder's classic movie farce about the same period, Some Like It Hot. But he liked only the songs, not the book, of the new musical, which he nicknamed Some Like It Lukewarm.

Another DiPietro piece, a ham-handed mystery/farce, currently is running at Dallas' Theatre Three. It's called The Art of Murder. It doesn't have music by the Gershwins. It does have a recording of Doris Day singing "Que Sera Sera." It's not a good play. Some Don't Like It at Any Temperature.

The gimmick of the play is a garbled double-cross scheme about an egotistical painter named Jack (played broadly by Jordan Willis) who torments his swishy agent (Michael Serrecchia) about selling more of his pictures for more money. Jack's wife Annie (Ashton McClearin) has a beef with her rotten husband. Turns out she's the talent putting brush to canvas, selling paintings under Jack's name. Annie and the agent conspire to murder Jack by drowning him in his fancy sensory deprivation tank (T3's version is a plywood fake that looks like a cross between a hillbilly still and the Ark of the Covenant).

The plot goes awry when Annie and the agent return from a celebratory post-murder dinner to find the tank empty. Where's Jack?

You won't care. By that point in the plodding script, you'll wish they were all dead. You'll wish they would shut up and let you flee the building. You might entertain murderous thoughts toward the playwright, the director (Terry Dobson, who did the best he could with a poisonous script) and, perhaps, the usher who found your seat. They're all conspirators in the worst evening of theater of the year thus far.

DiPietro doesn't have a talent for writing mystery. In his script, he writes himself into illogical corners. In one scene, he leaves the agent alone onstage, talking aloud to himself. Characters call each other by name endlessly and repeat the same banal bits of dialogue about how women artists are less collectible than men and how worthless agents and critics are in the world of high art. "I am an artist!" screams Jack. "Never judge me!"

Agents and critics perhaps have more sway in the realm of low art, which The Art of Murder is. Its only mystery is how it ever made it to a professional stage.

The Art of Murder continues through May 12 at Theatre Three in The Quadrangle. For tickets, 214-871-3300.

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