2012 Edmonton Village of the Fringed Fringe Review: Peter n' Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel

The murder mystery is one of the most reliable, practical, and effective story structures known to exist. It's spanned subgenres from the detective story to the slasher flick.

Since this is the Fringe Festival however, Peter 'n Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel turns it neatly on its head. At the very beginning, a hunchbacked little man comes out and introduces the plot...including the identity of the killer.

What struck me right away is that giving away the name of the killer isn't quite the huge faux pas the play implies it is when it opens up. You see, there's this little thing called Dramatic Irony whereby the tension is caused by the audience understanding fully a situation while the characters themselves are in the dark. In this case, Peter and Chris don't start off knowing the identify of the killer, and there is an inherent drama in such a situation.

Anyways, this just kicks off the play: Peter and Chris are driving when they suffer a serious yet oddly non-injurious car accident, and are forced to stop in at the eponymous Hungry Heart Motel, where it turns out that people are dying under mysterious circumstances. Eventually the two learn the killer's identify (okay, so the dramatic irony bit was only applicable for the opening 20 minutes or so) and the balance of the play is their wacky attempts at escaping.

Okay those same opening 20-30 minutes that actually contain the dramatic irony also turn out to be the dullest: the first half of the play serves more as a demonstration of how lead actors Chris Wilson and Peter Carlone are really really good at theatre sports and if you have a performance that requires bigger-than-life acting these are your guys. Their fourth wall breaking gags go from charming to boring remarkably fast, and the plot takes a little while getting up to speed. This play is extremely meta, and while that's the flavour of the month in a world where people actually go to watch Ted and then recommend it to friends, it doesn't register much beyond an "oooh" moment here and there.

Once the manager is openly revealed as the killer (see how I waited there?) the play actually picks up a bit, as the duo tries to escape with varying degrees of success. Clever cutting to other scenes with other characters lets us recharge a bit...and see the prolific nature of the manager's crimes as he offs a half dozen one-note characters in a couple of minutes.

Eventually he catches up to Chris, and then Peter, and just when everything looks to be at its lowest point...the actual story twist pops out of nowhere in a manner that would make Manoj Night Shyamalan feel a little guilty: a story twist that oddly is kept up as a pretense even after the play is over and Peter gives his post-play talk to the audience thanking them for coming and suggesting other Fringe plays.

As a whole the play is an entertaining enough romp: in the latter half some good physical acting takes place, and some of the "look what we can do" setup earlier pays off here. I guess when your play is that self-referential you can pull off gags like that.

Final word: You'll have a fun and entertaining stay at the Hungry Heart Motel, just be prepared for full-on-meta humour.