by Charles C. Bales · August 13, 2014
At the rundown Hotel by the Sea on the English coast, a motley crew of rare fish enthusiasts has gathered for their annual meeting. Each has brought an unusual specimen with them in hopes of capturing the trophy for “Best in Show” and the subsequent honors that come with it.
When the despotic and despised president of the group is murdered (egad!), everyone’s a suspect. And it’s up to world-famous mouse detective Thomas Hargraves to solve this farcical whodunit, now playing at the East Village’s Connelly Theater as part of FringeNYC 2014.
Femme Fatale Theater’s Pickles & Hargraves and The Curse of the Tanzanian Glimmerfish features over-the-top performances and outrageous dialogue that owes more to Are You Being Served? than Masterpiece Mystery. It’s all titters and snickers at dirty words and innuendo in a childish, harmless way. The murder plot is simply a device on which layers of character improvisation have been piled by a talented and energetic cast who do the best they can with the rather thin script.
Ryan Williams (also the co-author) is perfectly charming as mousey mouse-handler Sam Pickles, interacting with his empty hand and an off-stage squeaky toy that represent the rodent inspector. As hotelier Mrs. Tottenham, Aaron Jackson is saddled with the show’s worst running gag — constant mentions of feces and bowel movements that clog the hotel’s plumbing — but manages somehow to get genuine laughs nonetheless in bad drag with bad jokes.
As the mirror-obsessed James St. James, Evan Hoyt Thompson effortlessly channels the zaniness of the movie version of the board game Clue while Erin E. McGuff as the pintsize rough-and-tumble Katie Kincaid — a sort of Yosemite Sam adventurer — is all varmint-spewing gumption and guns. And Dan Fox, channeling cartoon villain Snidely Whiplash with mustache intact, is perfect as the pompous, manipulative Professor Peter Owens, the ill-fated leader of the International Society of Fish Fanciers.
Clues pile up, mayhem ensues, secrets are revealed, and the murderer is unveiled through the deductive reasoning of Master Hargraves as... Well, I’m not going to tell you that!
It’s all silly fun with a committed cast giving their all. But the hour-long show could use some better gags and better jokes for heartfelt laughs rather than simple giggles at the mention of the words poop and penis.