By George Basler
BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier) has one goal in mind in staging the play Murder at the Howard Johnson’s: Making people laugh. No deep thinking is required. No big message is present. The show is meant to be a lightweight comedy: Nothing more; nothing less.

“It’s a farce with a very sitcom type of humor. Think of Carol Burnett sketch-type of humor,” said Kate Murray, BLAST’s executive director, who is directing the show.
The play opens Sept. 16 and runs for two weekends at the Cider Mill Stage. It is the first offering of BLAST’s second season at the venerable Endicott playhouse.

“We here at BLAST love comedy. COVID is still hanging out, so we want to offer laughs to people,” Murray said.

The two-act, three-character play was written by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick, two veteran television comedy writers, who worked on The Smothers Brothers Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Steve Allen Show, among others.

The play has had a checkered history. It fizzled on Broadway, running only four performances. Since then, however, it’s become a popular attraction in community and dinner theaters.

The fact that it had only a short Broadway run did give BLAST pause, Murray said. But “when we started reading the play, we started laughing at the first page,” she said. The play may not be sophisticated comedy, but it is fast-paced and filled with “zingers,” she added.

The play is set in the room of a Howard Johnson’s motel in the Midwest. (For the younger set, Howard Johnson’s was a nationwide chain of restaurants, and later motels, known for their orange roofs, ice cream, hot dogs and fried clams.)

The action focuses on the misadventures of a hapless love triangle: restless housewife Arlene Miller (Hillori Schenker); her caddish paramour, Mitchell Lovell (Mark Durkee), and her clueless husband, Paul (John Montgomery). The three characters take turns trying to murder each other during the two acts, but it’s “more humor than homicide,” Murray said.

Montgomery agreed. While touching on the serious theme of a marriage gone bad, the murderous shenanigans are played strictly for laughs, he said.

“As soon as I read the script, I knew this was the role for me. It has great dialogue and physical humor, and that appeals to me a lot,” he added.

Montgomery has acted in numerous local productions, most recently as King Sextimus in BLAST’s spring production of Once Upon a Mattress at the Cider Mill Stage. Schenker, a social studies teacher in the Montrose (Pa.) Area School District, also acted in that production. Durkee has done theater work in the Norwich area.

Murray said she asked all three to be in Murder at the Howard Johnson’s based on her knowledge of their previous work. A farce requires technical skill as well as cast members who innately understand comic pacing, she said.

Another important part of the production is the set designed and built by Sonny DeWitt and painted by Larry Guidici, Murray said. The set lovingly captures the kitsch of a 1970s Howard Johnson’s motel room, compete with its orange and blue décor.

“We want people to come and have a blast,” Murray said.

IF YOU GO: Murder at the Howard Johnson’s will run Sept. 16-18 and Sept. 23-25 at the Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. All shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at $25 may be purchased by visiting the website,, or by calling the box office at 607-321-9630.