Art House Productions Gets Straightforward — and Funny — with ‘Murder on Ice’

Art House Productions takes a new direction in its latest original play. With Murder on Ice, the local theater group best known for producing abstract multimedia experimental dramas opts instead for a hilarious straightforward narrative that’s a parody of both old detective novels and the Ice Capades.

Art House founder and executive director Christine Goodman wrote and produced the show, in addition to designing its costumes. She says the idea has “been brewing” among the Art House regulars for more than three years.

“It felt like the time was right to do a comedy — something absolutely ridiculous and fun,” she says.

Set in 1945, Murder on Ice follows the Sunshine Sparklers’ ice show’s rise to fame. New to the troupe is Bobby Hatch (played by Johnny Ginter), an unknown ice dancing virtuoso who, despite his mild-mannered disposition, has a checkered past of alcoholism and bar brawls. Costumed in typical masculine ice dancing fashion, he wears a gold sash and what some would describe as burgundy “nut huggers.” The leader of the Sunshine Sparklers, Jobell Martin (played by Chantal Gagnon), falls in love with him through his beautiful but manly ice dancing. However, as the troupe gains fame, jealousies arise and finally, someone is murdered on the ice. The rest of the play is a whodunit, with melodramatic sound effects that get big laughs and ambitious ice dancing choreography. One high point of the play was a jealous slap fight over a lady.

For the production, the slick white floor of Art House’s 3,500-square-foot space was transformed into the Red River Ice Skating Rink, with the audience sitting in the bleachers. Goodman says the space – which has frustrated the group in past performances – helped spark the idea for this production.

“The biggest inspiration for Murder on Ice was the slippery white floor at Art House’s theater space,” she says. “That may sound strange, but the white floor has always been a challenge for us when we put on plays. It reflects light, it’s concrete … but this time we chose to embrace it.”

She adds that seeds of the show also came from ‘40s and ’50s detective novels (“I loved the idea of mixing that with over-the-top melodrama) and the fact that she was “a regular attendee” of Ice Capades as a child.

Though Goodman is the writer and producer of Murder on Ice, like all Art House productions, it was more of a collaborative affair.

“Jack Halpin was also a major contributor to the script. I would write pages and he’d give ideas on plot development,” she says of the show’s director. “Then, once the cast started rehearsing, we made a few more adjustments to the script — minor changes, for clarity’s sake.”

The costuming of the show is rooted in elaborate vintage get-ups, with extra touches like “pretend ice skate” booties that mimic the sound of ice skates. To add melodrama, ridiculous wigs were atop almost every head. Jersey City vintage store Another Man’s Treasure provided several of the vintage dresses, with others coming from the TDF Costume Collection in NYC. But Goodman made the ice show costumes — including the aforementioned booties — from scratch.

“I created their faux ice skates from a pattern I created,” she explains. “Then each boot was custom fitted to each actor’s foot and attached with a ballet slipper.”

Art House newcomer Morgan Hille Refakis choreographed the production; she was first introduced to Goodman during Insurgo Dance Project’s Your Move series last fall.

“Morgan got our Murder on Ice right away, and jumped right it,” Goodman says. “As we were trying to figure out how to create this ‘ice show’ world, she would bring really creative and inventive solutions to the table.”

When asked if Art House will return to the comedic form in the future, Goodman’s answer is an enthusiastic yes.

“We will absolutely do more comedy plays in the future, and we’ll do more experimental plays as well,” she says. “Heck, our next play might be an experimental musical comedy with puppetry and tap dancing set in outer space! Our scripts are influenced by where were are at the time, creatively speaking.”

THE DETAILS

Murder on Ice has three remaining performances; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 19 – 21, at 8 pm; 1 McWilliams Place, 6th Floor. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors); the May 20 show is a sign-language interpreted performance. For more details and tickets, click here.

a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent. She's also a comedian who was born and raised in Jersey City, a Fiction MFA candidate at the New School and drinks way too much beer.