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Knives and Niceties, Poise and Poison

November 23, 2022

by Michael Nichols

Monty Navarro is a poor, but lovable, heir to nothing, who has just buried his beloved mother. When an old family friend reveals that Monty is, in fact, ninth in line to a powerful earldom, young Navarro plans to reclaim the wealth and prestige so cruelly denied any way he can.

Bees? Cannibals? A swim under the ice? There are so many ways a family member might “accidentally” meet his or her end. From his first bumbling plans to larger, grander ploys, a misguided Monty takes audiences through a murderous misadventure, all underscored by wonderfully whimsical music in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, opening FST’s 45th Winter Mainstage Season.

Called “among the most inspired new musicals in years” by The New York Times and “one of the best” by Time Out Chicago, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder was a hit on Broadway, sweeping up seven Drama Desk awards and four Tonys, including one for Best Musical.

The delightfully deadly show piles the bodies high, and the laughs even higher. Its host of rambunctious, quirky characters like the arrogant Lord Adalbert, who sings a rousing ditty, “I Don’t Understand the Poor,” and the ridiculously muscular Major Lord Bartholomew ensure, with their ignorance and egotism, that the only tears shed for their own comical demises will be tears of laughter. “But everyone can rest assured that no actors will be harmed in the making of this play,” added Director Jason Cannon, laughing.

Expanding the comedy, one actor plays all eight of the family members who stand in Monty’s way of a life of ease and aristocracy. “The fact that one incredible actor plays the entire D’Ysquith family keeps us the in world of comedy,” said Director Jason Cannon. “It’s going to be a delight to watch this actor transform over and over again.”

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder owes its inspiration to a book first published in 1907. Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman is a dark comedy about a serial killer who murders his way through the line of succession to become the Earl of Gascoyne.

Yet, our Monty is more ladykiller than manslayer, and this musical pits him against amorous odds. As Monty walks the tightrope between right and wrong, love and passion, murder and… more murder, our heroic anti-hero makes this show much more than simply a guilty pleasure.

“Structurally, he is the hero.” Cannon continued, “But it depends on how you choose to define ‘hero’ and ‘villain.’ Even though the show is ‘merely’ a comedy, it asks some provocative questions about entitlement, revenge, justice, forgiveness, and whether the ends can ever justify the means.” Listing theatrical and literary echoes of Shakespeare, Cannon likens Monty to villains such as Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth who, with their deeply human flaws and motivations, somehow endear us to their ill-fated ambitions.

With a dash of Agatha Christie and a touch of Monty Python, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder speaks to the fundamental drive behind deeds both virtuous and vile: What do you truly want? And more importantly…what are you willing to do to get it?