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“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at Curtis Theatre

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

This Lovable Serial Killer Will Win Your Heart

By Dana Hammer

Serial killers. They fascinate us. Men like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Jack the Ripper all have movies, books, docuseries and podcasts dedicated to them, studying them, rehashing their grisly crimes for a ghoulishly obsessed audience. There is something about a person so detached from social norms and morals that they kill, again and again, just for the pleasure of doing so — that intrigues us. We love to hate them. Some say this intrigue is a sick impulse, but I’ve always held that it’s an evolutionary advantage to “know thy enemy” and to pay attention to the more dangerous elements in our society.

But we don’t love to hate all serial killers. Some of them we just love. Think of Joe Goldberg, or Dexter Morgan. We watch them, not because we like torture porn, but because we genuinely like the characters. What is it about some serial killers that makes us like them, however misguided that liking is?

The answer: these characters are charming…and fictional. But mostly we like them because they’re charming, and because their crimes are (in their minds, at least) in service of a noble goal. Whether it be for love, or ridding the world of evil people, these murderers aren’t “bad” — they just have to do bad things. And that makes for watchable, lovable, complex characters. “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a play that promises to bring us a character like Joe and Dexter — with songs.

The play, written by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, is set in 1907 to 1909, and is based on the novel, Israel Rank: the Autobiography of a Criminal. The main character is a man named Monty. He is a poor man, working a job as a lowly clerk, when he discovers that he is in fact a member of the aristocracy — a fact that has been hidden from him for a bunch of Edwardian reasons. He is, in fact, Lord Montague D’Ysquith Navarro, Ninth Earl of Highhurst.

Monty is in love with a woman named Sibella Hallward, who refuses to marry him because of his poverty. When Monty discovers his fancy new lineage, he tells Sibella all about it. She points out that eight people would have to die for him to inherit the earldom of Highhurst, and still refuses to marry him, and plans to marry a rich man instead.

We all see where this is going. Monty embarks on a scheme to murder the eight earls ahead of him, thus obtaining the earldom for himself, and winning his lady love.

From left: Kalinda Gray, Paul Zelhart and Hailey Tweter (Photo by Francis Gacad)

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is, obviously, about murder, and audiences who like a dark story will have much to enjoy here. But the play is also a comedy. With song titles like “I Don’t Understand the Poor”, “Why are all the D’Ysquiths Dying” , “Better With a Man” and “Stop! Wait! What?” We can expect lots of laughs.

Kris Kataoka, theater manager of the Curtis Theatre says: “…I absolutely love this score. I especially appreciate how it sounds like a classic Broadway musical and yet, it only debuted in 2012. I also think the book and lyrics are incredibly clever and read like a love letter to Gilbert and Sullivan. Add to that the outlandish dark comedic story and some intriguing design challenges and you have an irresistible piece of musical theatre.”

Irresistible. I can think of no better word to describe our need to watch lovable serial killers do their thing. Don’t resist the urge. Come see “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at Curtis Theatre, in Brea.

Dana Hammer is the author of The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting, My Best Friend Athena, and many plays and short stories. She unapologetically loves Joe Goldberg.

‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’

Curtis Theatre

1 Civic Center Circle, Brea CA 92821

February 10 - 26, 2023

(714) 990-7729,

Top: Chris Russo. Bottom, from left: Kalinda Gray, Paul Zelhart and Hailey Tweter (Photo by Francis Gacad)

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