Review: "The Mascot Murders" Unholsters No-Holds-Barred Noir Parody

The Mascot Murders

Written by Michael Zielinski

Directed by Ken Wolf

Presented by Manhattan Repertory Theatre at the Chain Theatre

312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor, Manhattan, NYC

June 7-9, 2024

Dave Silberger as Tom and Nathan Cusson as Matt. Photo by John Sarno
For a brand, a mascot does nothing but trumpet identity, but for the person inside a mascot costume, complete anonymity is the diametrically opposed effect. There's also something inherently humorous and yet a little creepy about these ungainly, unspeaking, masked characters (think about how many horror movie villains fit that description). Michael Zielinski's new play, The Mascot Murders, notwithstanding its title, mines these contradictory elements not for fright but for full-tilt farce, as a pair of hapless private investigators face repeated–and varyingly outrageous–attempts on their lives by someone concealed within the fuzzy exteriors of various mascot costumes.

Nathan Cusson as Matt and Geoffrey Grady as Biff Benson with Shelly. Photo by John Sarno
While introduced comically insulting one another's food and sex habits, among other things, P.I.s Tom (Dave Silberger) and Matt (Nathan Cusson) perform well enough together, noir-tinged squabbling banter aside, to have amassed numerous criminal enemies who need investigating after they are shot at while driving–one of the more banal methods of attempted murder in the show even as it involves an overpowered weapon and someone in a bear suit. After surviving a few more near-assassinations at their office–run by Barb (Jessica Luhmann), who is not above using Matt's desk for an amorous liaison–the duo, who are investigating the murder of one Frank Furter, set out to interrogate a number of people who may want them dead. These visits structure a stretch of the play and introduce us to a set of colorful suspects, from many-times-widowed Southern belle-type Alice Stumpf (Chelsea Clark) to piano teacher-cum-MMA fighter and one-time date of Matt's Ladyfingers (Chelsea Clark) to tattooist Tony "the Tiger" Galento (Geoffrey Grady), who still holds a grudge over a past run-in with Tom's tire iron. Among the sex worker propositions and pet turtle attacks that bedevil Matt and Tom's efforts to get to the bottom of who is under the mascot masks, the P.I.s face a cavalcade of outlandish homicidal assays using grenades, a frozen chicken leg, what can legitimately be called a booby trap, and much more.
Chelsea Clark as Honey Pot and Jessica Luhmann as Barb. Photo by John Sarno
The Mascot Murders is packed with jokes, with no reluctance to be silly or scatological; quick-moving and often gleefully absurd, it achieves something of the feel of a live-action cartoon (a brief use of the Benny Hill theme is a good aural evocation of the show's madcap energy). Luhmann is an excellent comic foil to the deadpan ineptitude with which Silberger and Cusson invest Tom and Matt, with Cusson in particular bringing a lot of physical comedy to the role, while Grady and Clark each create multiple memorably over-the-top characters. Among the various mascot encounters (spoiler), a scene with an attacker in a dino costume is especially hilarious, and the play even includes a couple of twists. The sound design plays an important role in manifesting the machine guns and Molotov cocktails and exploding tattoo guns that appear over the course of Matt and Tom's investigation, which, in a fun touch, you are invited to further complicate by wearing an (optional) mask handed out when you check in. If, say, a killer dominatrix in an oversized cat head sounds like your brand of funny, then The Mascot Murders has you covered, and then some.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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