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An immediate and sensational flop, Moose Murders by Arthur Bicknell is now widely considered to bethe worst play ever performed on Broadway.
‘Ifyour name is Arthur Bicknell – or anything like it –change it,’ said the theatre critic at CBS.
When it opened and closed on 22 February 1983, Frank Rich, the drama critic of the New York Times, wrote: ‘From now on there will always be two groups of theatregoers in this world: those who have seen Moose Murders and those who have not. Those of us who have witnessed it will undoubtedly hold periodic reunions in the noble tradition of survivors of the Titanic.’
The play, a mystery farce, relates the adventures of Snooks and Howie Keene, Nurse Dagmar, Stinky Holloway and others trapped together one excellent stormy night at the Wild Moose Lodge, a guesthouse in the Adirondack Mountains. Several murders take place, Stinky tries to sleep with his mother and a man in a moose costume is assaulted by a bandage-wrapped quadriplegic.
There is a thunderclap. The curtain rises on a hunting lodge which is attractively festooned with stuffed moose heads.
Act One gets off to a corking start when ‘The Singing Keenes’, the resident entertainers, come on and launch straight into a rendition of ‘Jeepers Creepers’. A scantily clad Snooks Keene sings in an off-key screech. She is accompanied by her blind husband pounding away on his electric organ until the plug is pulled out by the resident caretaker, Joe Buffalo Dance, who wears Indian war paint but speaks with an Irish brogue.
They are soon joined by the wealthy Hedda Holloway, the Lodge’s new owner. She arrives with her husband Sidney, the heavily bandaged quadriplegic, who is confined to a wheelchair. His attendant, Nurse Dagmar, wears revealing black satin, barks like a Nazi and whenever possible leaves her patient out in the rain. In addition to her son Stinky, a drug-crazed Oedipal hippie, Mrs Holloway has a young daughter called Gay, who is permanently in a party dress. When told that her father will always be a vegetable, she turns up her nose and replies, ‘Like a lima bean? Gross me out!’ and then breaks into a tap dance.
Just before the interval Stinky gets out a deck of cards to give the actors, if not the audience, something to do. The lights go out mid-game and the first of several inexplicable murders is committed.
‘Even Act One of Moose Murders is inadequate preparation for Act Two,’ Mr Rich wrote. In the play’s final twist Mrs Holloway serves Gay a poison-laced vodka Martini for reasons that are never entirely clear. As the young girl collapses to the floor and croaks in the middle of a Shirley Temple tap-dancing routine, her mother breaks into laughter and applause.
The leading lady was supposed to be making her comeback after more than forty years away from the Broadway stage, but she dropped out after the first preview.
To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of its opening and closing the play was restaged as a conceptual art project. ‘Broadway had its chance and they blew it,’ the artist said.
The Least Successful Hospital Visit
In June 2010 Mrs Connie Everett of Kitimat, British Columbia, was taken to hospital after colliding with a moose while driving to visit her sister, Mrs Yvonne Studley, who was in hospital after colliding with a moose.