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THEATER REVIEW : An Invitation to Check In for Laughs : Ottavio's Dinner Theater performs 'Murder at Howard Johnson's' as a silly and sexy romp--without a serious moment.


You've heard of film noir , right? Well, the folks at Dinner Theater at Ottavio's are presenting something that can be called "play orange and blue"--after the corporate color scheme of one of America's largest hotel chains.

Veteran comedy scribes Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick's "Murder at the Howard Johnson's" dates to the late '70s, and the laughter resounds today. It's silly, it's sexy (sort of), and it's just under two hours of wall-to-wall fun without a single serious thought.

As the play opens, Mitchell Lovell (Damian Gravino) and Arlene Miller (Denice Stradling) are holed up in a room at a Howard Johnson hotel, awaiting Arlene's husband, Paul (Keith Moreton). When he arrives, Arlene and Mitchell plan to kill him so their affair can continue unchallenged.

This being a comedy, all immediately goes awry. Mitchell is unspeakably vain ("I'm a dentist, Arlene; I can have any woman I want!"), Paul is thoroughly dull, Arlene is dimwitted and easily distracted--and all three share a characteristic that foils their plans for the rest of the play: They are all just too nice to follow through on whatever dire plans they may dream up.

As the play progresses, Mitchell, Paul and Arlene switch allegiance, with uniformly amusing results. The various permutations (all with murder in mind) take place in the same Howard Johnson's room over a year's time.

One of this production's many attributes is the set, designed by Tom Murry and furnished courtesy of the Reseda branch of the Johnson chain. In addition to the chairs, tables and painting, there's some elaborate construction--so that some of the action can take place on a window ledge. There is also a wooden contraption for the last scene, the funniest murder attempt of all.

None of this would work without good actors or imaginative direction, and director Martin Horsey (who played the title role in the Ottavio's production of "The Foreigner") is working with a highly capable trio of farceurs .

Also worthy of note is the work that the Dinner Theater at Ottavio's people have put into re-creating a Howard Johnson atmosphere.


* WHAT: "Murder at the Howard Johnson's."

* WHEN: Thursday and Friday nights at 7 through April 15.

* WHERE: Ottavio's Banquet Facility, 340 Mobil Ave., Camarillo.

* COST: $25 per person, includes show, buffet dinner, nonalcoholic beverage, tax and gratuity.

* FYI: Not recommended for children due to some sexual situations. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Call 484-9909.

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