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Rust Belt slays with ‘Serial Monogamy’

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s nice when a couple can share a hobby. It’s something to bond over and can bring the pair closer together.

Of course, when that hobby is murder and things go south, they can go really south, like six feet under south.

That the hilarious premise of “Serial Monogamy,” the latest musical by Robert Dennick Joki and Josh Taylor, which Rust Belt Theater Company premiered Friday.

Elizabeth (Lynn Sabeh) and James (Austin Brown) meet through a dating app, but each is less interested in finding a soulmate than finding the next victim.

James goes in for the kill first, but when he tries to strangle Elizabeth, she’s less upset by the murder attempt than the sloppiness of it — how were you going to get the body out of the apartment without anyone seeing you? How were you going to dispose of it so no one would find it?

Elizabeth is a planner. She studies the famous murderers of the past, not to learn their techniques but to avoid their mistakes. James is more impulsive. Someone catches his eye, then catches the blade of his knife.

The first act really works. Sabeh and Brown make the audience care about these characters despite (or maybe because of) their peccadillos, and the best idea in Joki’s and Taylor’s musicals is having some of the killers in Elizabeth’s big book of death come to life in musical numbers.

Jude Mikulich is a standout as a dreamy killer named Ted (Bundy?) as Celena Coven, Mary Boldish James and Brooke Nobbs swoon over him and his “Killer Smile.”

“The Hunger” is a song about Jeffrey Dahmer filled with more than enough cannibalism puns to fill anyone’s hunger for twisted humor.

In the second act, Kage Coven is a menacing delight singing “Everybody Loves a Clown” as a local kiddie show host known as Mr. Fingers (the clown angle clearly draws on John Wayne Gacy’s infamy, but it’s less overt than the references to Bundy, Dahmer and killer nurse Genene Anne Jones, played by Leah Ifft).

However, the second act is where the show goes a bit off the rails, detouring to a David Koresh-like cult leader (Jack Rusk) and his minions (Rachel Clifford, Martin Daniels).

That plot line largely separates Elizabeth and James, and that’s where the story is. The writers, the actors and director Joki do a great job getting the viewer emotionally invested in those characters and, while avoiding spoilers, the two should have a more direct impact in the final evolution of their relationship.

Rust Belt Theater Company consistently does great work on a shoestring budget, and “Serial Monogamy” has the potential to be one of its original productions that goes into regular rotation at the Calvin Center performance space.

agray@tribtoday.com