"Moose Murders" shouldn't happen to a moose. On the other hand, maybe only a moose, bounding up and down the stairs and throughout the cluttered reaches of the Adirondacks lodge setting, could have any fun at the incredibly sappy murder mystery farce, handiwork of Arthur Bicknell, that was deposited at the O'Neill last night.
A family, the Holloways, arrives to take over the Wild Moose Lodge on a fall evening. The party consists of the mother, Hedda; her unduly affectionate son, Stinky; her married daughter, Lorraine, and the latter's husband, Nelson; a pre-pubescent daughter, Gay, who is a compulsive tap dancer; Hedda's seemingly immobile hubby, Sidney, encased in bandages and confined to a wheelchair, and a haughty vamp of a nurse.
Also on hand are a pair of entertainers left over from the previous management: a flashy blonde who sings off key and her blind husband who accompanies her and keeps bumping into things. The lodgekeeper, who wears braids and pretends to be an Indian though he is actually an Irishman, lopes about disguised in a moosehead.
These are the jokes, folks. All variations of the characters and their foibles are exploited relentlessly as this one and that gets knocked off - stabbed or shot.
I forget how it all comes out, even though I hung around, foolhardy soul, till the end. Engaged in the meaningless hustle and bustle, not so much directed as tossed like a salad by John Roach, are Holland Taylor, a gracious actress I have admired in the past but for whom I felt no sympathy for having taken on the role of the mother, and the spirited June Gable, who plays the tuneless songstress.
We are told early in the game that Wild Moose Lodge has an evil reputation. Talk about understatements.
A play called Moose Murders had the ineffable effrontery to open - if that is what it did - at the Eugene O'Neill Theater last night.
This murderously uncomic murder comedy was so indescribably bad, that I do not intend to waste anyone's time by describing it. The Chocolate Moose did it - and it makes Whodunnit seem like Hamlet.
Most of the people involved can mercifully remain unmentionable. Although for the record - their record at least - it should be noted that the playwright was someone called Arthur Bicknell, and the producers - if that is the word, called themselves Force Ten Productions Inc. The associate producer, apparently a vice-president of Force Ten, is, or was, Ricka Kanter Fisher.
This is the show that parted company a few weeks back with Eve Arden. Some people have all the luck. Here it was clearly Miss Arden.
From now on, there will always be two groups of theatergoers in this world: those who have seen ''Moose Murders,'' and those who have not. Those of us who have witnessed the play that opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theater last night will undoubtedly hold periodic reunions, in the noble tradition of survivors of the Titanic. Tears and booze will flow in equal measure, and there will be a prize awarded to the bearer of the most outstanding antlers. As for those theatergoers who miss ''Moose Murders'' - well, they just don't rate. A visit to ''Moose Murders'' is what will separate the connoisseurs of Broadway disaster from mere dilettantes for many moons to come.
The play begins in the exact manner of ''Whodunnit'' - itself one of the season's drearier offerings, though at the time of its opening we didn't realize how relatively civilized it was. There's a loud thunderclap, and the curtain rises to reveal an elaborate, two-level, dark wood set. Amusingly designed by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, the set represents a lodge in the Adirondacks and is profusely decorated with the requisite stuffed moose heads. Though the heads may be hunting trophies, one cannot rule out the possibility that these particular moose committed suicide shortly after being shown the script that trades on their good name.
The first human characters we meet - if ''human'' is the right word - are ''the singing Keenes.'' The scantily clad Snooks Keene bumps her backside in the audience's face and sings ''Jeepers Creepers'' in an aggresively off-key screech while her blind husband, Howie, pounds away on an electric hand organ. Howie's plug is soon mercifully pulled by the lodge's beefy middle-aged caretaker, Joe Buffalo Dance, who wears Indian war paint and braids but who speaks in an Irish brogue.
This loathsome trio is quickly joined by a whole crowd of unappetizing clowns. The wealthy Hedda Holloway, the lodge's new owner, arrives with her husband, Sidney, a heavily bandaged quadriplegic who is confined to a wheelchair and who is accurately described as ''that fetid roll of gauze.'' Sidney's attendant, Nurse Dagmar, wears revealing black satin, barks in Nazi-ese and likes to leave her patient out in the rain. The Holloway children include Stinky, a drug-crazed hippie who wants to sleep with his mother, and Gay, a little girl in a party dress. Told that her father will always be ''a vegetable,'' Gay turns up her nose and replies, ''Like a lima bean? Gross me out!'' She then breaks into a tap dance.
For much of Act I, this ensemble stumbles about mumbling dialogue that, as far as one can tell, is only improved by its inaudibility. Just before intermission, Stinky breaks out a deck of cards to give the actors, if not the audience, something to do. The lights go out in mid-game, and when they come up again, one of the characters has been murdered. Such is the comatose nature of the production that we're too busy trying to guess which stiff on stage is the victim to worry about guessing the culprit.
Even Act I of ''Moose Murders'' is inadequate preparation for the ludicrous depths of Act II. I won't soon forget the spectacle of watching the mummified Sidney rise from his wheelchair to kick an intruder, unaccountably dressed in a moose costume, in the groin. This peculiar fracas is topped by the play's final twist, in which Hedda serves her daughter Gay a poison-laced vodka martini. As the young girl collapses to the floor and dies in the midst of another Shirley Temple-esque buck and wing, her mother breaks into laughter and applause.
The 10 actors trapped in this enterprise, a minority of them of professional caliber, will not be singled out here. I'm tempted to upbraid the author, director and producers of ''Moose Murders,'' but surely the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be after them soon enough.