CEDAR CITY — When an estranged married couple reconnects to write the next book in their co-authored series of murder mysteries, there is bound to be some fireworks. Or in this case, shots fired, knives pulled, and poison administered.

Show closes July 29, 2023.

Written by Nick Hall and produced by SimonFest in Cedar City under the direction of Ellen Wheeler, Marriage is Murder brings all the witty banter and prickly barbs one might expect from a couple whose relationship is in tatters. It also adds a dose of levity to two rather grisly topics: murder and disaffected relationship.

Set in New York City in the 1980s, Polly (played by Alyson King Wheeler) arrives to the apartment of her ex-husband Paul (played by Jaymes Wheeler) to find a disastrous mess. Letting herself in and looking around, Polly can tell that Paul’s life has not thrived in her absence. However, it soon becomes apparent that the chaos of the apartment mirrors the chaos in each of their lives — and the messiness of their relationship.

With a cast of only two people, the production relies on the chemistry and talent of both Alyson and Jaymes Wheeler. Luckily, this real-life married couple brings both elements to the table in spades. Whether tackling the difficult job of acting alone on stage for periods of time, or engaging in the regular verbal sparring matches, both actors presented believable characters with only a few missteps in their lines.

Left to right: Jaymes Wheeler as Paul and Alyson King Wheeler as Polly.

Set designers Ellen Wheeler and Alyson King Wheeler have exquisite attention to detail in this single set production. Items that appeared randomly chosen to clutter the space soon became integral parts of the story. While others, such as the bevy of potential murder weapons, kept the audience intrigued and guessing as to which methods this couple might explore in pursuit of the perfect murder for their latest novel.

Although this production is not a musical, the pre-recorded music included during the pre-show and intermittent scene changes served as a highlight that helped to solidify the time frame and add some additional humor. Classic 1980s hits like “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “One Way or Another,” and others served as hilarious tongue-in-cheek commentary on what happened in one scene as it moved to the next.

While the quips, digs and one-liners peppered throughout the script are delivered well enough, after a while these argumentative lines push the story away from being an entertaining comedy, and closer to becoming a two-hour argument with only a mild payoff in the end. That, however, is a criticism of the playwright’s script, not necessarily the execution in this production. Given the material they had to work with, the actors deliver solid performances that are likely to please audiences at the SimonFest.

In the end, the symbolism of the messy apartment in Marriage is Murder serves as an interesting focal point for the entire play. Polly’s continual attempts to clean up the space makes way for the couple’s own realization that perhaps it is in the messiness of their lives that they can find what made them happy in the first place. Nothing is completely clean in the end, but then again, marriage itself is messy. And so is murder.

The SimonFest production of Marriage is Murder plays various dates at 2 PM or 7 PM through July 29 at the Heritage Center Theater (105 North 100 East, Cedar City). Tickets are $18-30. For more information, visit simonfest.org.

This review is generously supported by a grant from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.